1st Time Visitor Review: Emmanuel UMC – Beltsville, Maryland

For those of you that don’t know, my wife, Tyra and our two youngest boys (we have six) and myself have embarked on a year long RV trip to see the United States! We will be working and doing school online and experiencing the great history and culture and great lands that God has blessed us with. 

Each Sunday we also plan to visit a new church so that we can experience how different churches handle welcoming first time visitors. 

For any of you that know me, my ministry in my church and even with ChurchBuzz website design all revolves around welcoming people into the church and introducing them to the abundant life my family and I have experienced following Jesus. 

We started our Journey traveling from the Dallas area to the Washington D.C. area on August 18th.  We have been in Maryland, just outside of D.C. since last Friday the 21st.

So any way, this past Sunday we searched for nearby churches in Google and one of the first to pop up was Emmanuel United Methodist Church.   The website needs some serious updating, but at least it did format fairly well on our phones.

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We headed to church in time for the 9:15 service. And then we arrived to realize that we read the schedule wrong and we were late for the 9:00 service (yes the website had the correct time)!  Well we had a choice of two different doors to enter and chose the one with the Welcome sign.  Lucky for us!  The other door would have opened right into the front of the Sanctuary.  

Even though we were late someone did greet us and show us into the sanctuary. 

We sat near the back and quickly learned this was Youth Sunday. Yeah! If you know me, I also love having the Youth involved and active in a church and the youth did a fine job.  The Youth Pastor delivered the sermon.  I love seeing Youth do this as it helps highlight what Youth are learning and usually the congregation loves to hear from them.

This service was labeled as the “Contemporary” service.  The “Traditional” service was at 11:00am.  But there was certainly a mixture of “contemporary” and “traditional” happening here.  The makeup of the congregation was every age from babies to senior citizens and different races.

This particular service seemed to have several elements that were very Catholic to me (I was raised Catholic).  They had candles on the side of the church that you could light to offer up prayers (at least that is what we did in the Catholic church, I didn’t see any explanation of what these were for).

And then they had Communion – well this isn’t weird for a Methodist Church because most do celebrate Communion on the first Sunday of the month.  I later found out that this service always does Communion every Sunday.  Nice to have that option! I wish my church had that option, I would probably attend that service.  The other “traditional” service apparently just does Communion on first Sundays.  Both my kids commented to me that they like the idea of having Communion every week – as long as it doesn’t interfere with “children’s church” 🙂

I would have like to have experienced the Traditional service as well to see what the difference was.  This “contemporary” service wasn’t full contemporary, but that is ok.

Alright, so that this blog post doesn’t go on forever, here are the things I liked and didn’t like as a first time visitor:

Positives

  • The people were friendly to us.  Upon entering the church we were greeted and after church no less than 4 people came by to greet us and two women spoke with us at some length.  It was very nice, although I will say that all of the people that came by were older folks.  None of the younger families / people came by.  Based on the people that talked to us, I would have been likely to visit again 🙂
  • Youth Sunday and Blessing of the Backpacks – I believe it is so important for a church to focus on the children and Youth.  There weren’t many in this service, perhaps there would be more at the later service which would be typical.  Anyway, definite thumbs up for this.  I enjoyed how the Youth Pastor tried to get the congregation to be engaged.  
  • The service used computer screens, so this makes it easier to follow along.  Although I would recommend to churches (my church included) that instead of simply stating the Bible verse that is being read, that you actually display the entire Bible verse to make it easier to follow the Bible reading.  
  • Music.  There was plenty of music and it was very well presented.  My only issues was that it wasn’t familiar to me.  Not sure if these were custom written songs or what, but to me Contemporary worship plays “contemporary” music that you might hear on a Christian radio station, etc.  Music is something that can reach deep into your soul, but for me this only happens with music that I know very well.  

Negatives

  • I knew who the Pastor was from the website, but never figured out if they had a children’s minister.  A young lady got up to speak at Children/Youth time, but she never identified herself and it wasn’t listed in the bulletin, so not sure who she was.  And of course with a 9 and 10 year old I would have expected the Children’s director to come find us after the service.  There weren’t that many children in the service, so it should have been obvious we were “new”.
  • This next one is not about welcoming first time visitors per se.  As I mentioned I was raised Catholic.  In the Catholic church we are VERY careful not to spill the sacramental bread or juice. It is the “body and blood of Christ” after all.  During communion I was rather appalled by the lack of respect in this area.  By the time communion was over, there was a large pile of breadcrumbs on the floor and no one picked it up – well not until the Pastor walked out during the recessional and quickly picked up some of the pieces and stuffed them into his pocket.  If I was visiting for the first time, this would have turned me off and I would not be back.  There are many solutions to this problem.  Use different bread, be more careful when peeling off pieces, don’t peel off such big pieces (my 10 year old said “that was a BIG piece of bread”), add a table to the serving area to collect the pieces that fall.  If a big piece does fall, someone should immediately be designated to pick it up.  Also, the pastor put on plastic food preparation gloves prior to distributing the elements.  This seemed very unnatural and off putting to me.  In our church we have the Pastor and any Communion helpers use hand sanitizer when they begin helping.  This is just one solution.

Recommendations to make first time visitors feel welcome

  • Have your ministers/directors introduce themselves each and every Sunday
  • Think about every individual aspect of what you are doing in your worship service and how well this will be received by first time visitors.

I am not a worship expert here, but these are just my impressions as educated first time visitors.  Would love to hear your ideas that can help this church or offer other options for churches to help welcome first time visitors.

Until next Sunday!
Patrick

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