1st Time Visitor Review: University UMC – College Park, Maryland

For those of you that don’t know – my wife Tyra, 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 going to school “online” and experiencing the great history and culture and great lands that God has blessed us with. Each Sunday we will visit a different church and blog about our experience as “first time visitors”.  We will share our experiences to hopefully benefit the church and any church who reads the blog post to learn about positive and negative experiences and how you might address these in your own church.

First Time Visitor Review
University UMC
College Park, Maryland

Well, we found a church to worship at this weekend.  But not really based on their website.  The website needs a lot of work!  It is not mobile friendly, sections are out of date, photos are sometimes distorted and overall does not leave a good impression on the first time visitor.  But it does have a nice big red button to “Donate Online”!  

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Anyway, Tyra decided we should visit this church, so we did.

Yeah! This week we got to church on time! 🙂

We showed up about ten minutes early and walked in. A nice man greeted us and handed us bulletins and asked if we were visiting and we told him that we were. . .   If you are anticipating hearing about the conversation that ensued, so was I.  And I still am. Hmm not sure who that was or anything because he didn’t introduce himself (I am pretty sure now that he was the husband or at least somehow related to the Pastor). Anyway we proceeded into the sanctuary. It was a beautiful sanctuary. Tall ceilings, large sacristy. Reminded me of an old “high” church. We sat down and waited for the service to begin. A few nice persons came by to say hello and good morning. Can’t tell you their names or anything about them because they didn’t introduce themselves either.  One person who greeted us – we figured out – was the Pastor.  She came by to welcome us but didn’t do much besides say Welcome.  No introduction, no “is this your first time here”, etc.  

We did hear things like “welcome” and “nice to see you here” so it seemed obvious that we were recognized as visitors. We heard this several other times from many people during the service. The people were nice enough and friendly but they didn’t introduce themselves or show interest in us. Weird.  We never felt like “guests” in their church.

Anyway we sat down and experienced some great worship. Instead of an opening hymn they did a “hymn sing”. Members of the congregation raised their hand to request a hymn. We sang one verse of many old time “Standards of the Faith” and we all really enjoyed this, even our 9 and 10 year old.

Standing in the Promises
It is well with my soul
America the Beautiful
We are the Church

It was great. These are all hymns that Tyra and I know very well and the kids knew some of them also. I could feel the presence of God with me as I worshipped him in song.

Instead of a sermon this day the Pastor had the congregation do a love feast. The congregation stood together in the center aisle facing each other. Each person was passed a loaf of bread and small communion cups filled with water. The water was to symbolize our desire to be purified and cleaned in preparation for communion which the congregation would partake in next week. The love feast used as a way to teach us more about John Wesley and call us to ‘get right with God’.  One missed opportunity here was to have people introduce themselves to the people across the aisle as you would if you were sitting down to a “meal” together.

During the service, the Pastor was intentional and came across as a real person and didn’t take her self too seriously. I really liked her but don’t remember her name. I felt she was either tired or nervous – just a little too reserved. She seems like a person with a lot of energy and passion but it was hard to see that during the service. I would have liked to get to know her and feel like she is probably a great Pastor.

My overall impression as a first time visitor was that the worship experience was great and the people were friendly but that it would take a long time to become part of this family. Even after the service, our kids heard there were refreshments down the hall, which I don’t think was announced, just some person told us as were leaving. We headed down there and still no one really engaged us.

I think the problem here is not due to lack of desire, but maybe just training. I don’t think the people know what to do or say to visitors to make them feel like welcome guests.  What do you do at your church to make people feel WELCOME and noticed?

Church – at minimum, treat people the way you would if they showed up at your doorstep at home.  Welcome them in, ask who they are and let the conversation flow naturally.  Take an interest in THEM – don’t be concerned with what they might think of YOU or your church.  Be Christ and let Christ lead the way 🙂

I would like to give kudos in that this church had a lot of opportunities for service! This was awesome.

But, it looks like they have no kids or youth program so this wouldn’t be somewhere that we be able to call home if we were looking for a new church home.

Again this week we signed the attendance book at the end of the pew, but as of today (Thursday) we haven’t heard anything from this church.  I think that if someone takes time to sign your attendance book they are wanting you to contact them, church!

Just so you know, I do send a link to this blog post to each church we visit in the hopes that they will review and prayerfully grow and improve their efforts for welcoming first time visitors to make them feel like guests or even family by the end of the service.

I agree with people that believe you don’t want to embarrass first time visitors, but you don’t want to ignore them either.  🙂

In Christ, let us be Christ to whomever we meet,

Patrick

 

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