VISITOR: How long have you been at this church?
ME: Since 7am.
Visitors to a church are typically nervous, so I give them some slack. They don’t know what kind of group they are walking into, they don’t know anyone, nor how we do things. This could either be their spiritual home or another place they will run from and never return to. One never knows.
But you can learn a lot about a visitor by the questions they ask.
Visitors who ask for a doctrinal statement:
These are a dying breed and I appreciate them. They want to know what food they’ll be served. They want to know up front where we stand. It shows a certain care about the actual function of a church—teaching believers to grow in Christ. God bless visitors who care about doctrinal statements. And also, they aint coming back.
Visitors who ask about you, the pastor:
“What’s your other job?” is my favorite of these questions. It’s sort of an accusation, and if nothing else, a meant disrespect. Where did you go to seminary? How long have you been here? Where did you pastor before this? Then they will tell you about their old pastor and how great or awful he was and make comparisons for good or bad. And also, they aint coming back.
Visitors who ask about the size of the church:
Building a new building soon? Are you growing? Any new families lately? Then they will tell you about what they did in their old church that worked to bring people in and how you should try that here as if you’ve never heard of church growth ideas and live in the backwoods of spiritual ignorance and churchly incompetence. And also, they aint coming back.
Visitors who don’t ask anything:
Yeah, over the years, these are the ones most likely to come back. They don’t feel a need to interrogate, insinuate, compare, or examine. They just want a place to go. If they like it; they like it. If they don’t; they don’t. They may ask some surface questions and make conversation, but for the most part, they hold off the interrogations and seek to observe. These ones might be back.
One couple who visited our church asked for a doctrinal statement and then expressed surprise at my message, which they thought contradicted the doctrinal statement. And, in all honesty, it may have to a degree (I did not write the statement myself after all). But the wife just launched on me. She went hard after the doctrine and argued. Her husband stood quietly by. I kept looking at him here and there and he just nervously smiled.
I’ve never had a visitor quite go at me like her. I never saw them again, but I have several times prayed for that poor husband. I could tell by his looks he gave me this wasn’t the first time and he was sorry.
It was also nice that all the board members completely left me standing there alone after church with this couple. They all scattered. No man stood with me. It was me and this couple in the building. That was it. That was not cool.
I handled them the best I could and held no expectation they would be back, and they never returned. But I still pray for that poor man.
Visitors are testing the waters, as much as the waters are testing the visitors. Most visitors don’t come back. I’m always amazed at the people who stay. They were typically the ones I hardly remember their first coming. They just melt right into the group. It’s a beautiful thing to behold, and more so since it’s so rare.
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers:
for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.