Reaching out to those reaching in


            “I’m not kidding,” Angie said to her husband, Rob, “There are no signs and it’s your job to decide which one of the five doors we should go in,” as they made their second drive around the church.  They parked and found the first door locked.  Their second choice wasn’t the best door either - there was no greeter outside or inside. 
            “Now we may get to walk in late,” Rob said, “if we find our way to the sanctuary.  It’s got to be in this direction. Let’s hustle.”  Finally, Rob and Angie saw the narthex and realized the 8:30 service had not started.  A group of suited gentlemen sporting brass name badges were huddled closely together listening to one of their group share a golf story.  They all had several bulletins in their hands. 
            Rob walked close to them and cleared his throat, “Hello, may I have a bulletin for the service?” 
            “Oh!  Sure, here you go,” the usher offered, then immediately turned back around to the group and the golf story.
            Rob opened the door for Angie and they both noticed several of the back pews were completely full.  Going a few more pews toward the chancel area, they saw a couple sitting next to the aisle, with a bit of space next to them.
            “May we sit here?” Rob asked with a smile, pointing to the center of that pew. 
            “Oh, I am so sorry, but our daughter and her family are coming in a minute.  We are saving this space for them.”  
            Two more pews down on the left there was some more open space.  By now the service had begun.  Rob again asked for permission to be seated – this time of a lady seated next to the aisle. She replied welcomingly, “Please do.  My family is not here today to sit with me on our pew.” 
            Following the prelude and a brief congregational responsive reading printed in the bulletin, the Pastor began to share a few important announcements.  Rob and Angie were beginning to settle in, ready for worship. 
            Suddenly, the Pastor said, “Now we want to welcome our first time visitors.  I see at least two new visitor couples here and would like for you to please stand and tell us your name and where you are from.” 
            Rob and Angie looked at each other, stunned.  The last thing they wanted was to be spotlighted, and have to speak in front of nearly 300 strangers!  Feeling all the eyes on him, Rob struggled through it for them, but still could not believe it was actually happening.  
            When they cranked their car to drive away, Angie said, “You know what, Rob?  That church has a lot of people and I got the impression they really don’t care about welcoming more.   Let’s visit a different church next Sunday.” 
            How are we at reaching out to those who are reaching in?  Let’s reflect on a few questions drawn from this account:
1). What’s the harm in an absence of effective signage?   What kind of signs would have made a tremendous difference to visitors? (Start your answer where visitors park.)  What committee could have prioritized and handled this much sooner?   
2). With five possible doorways into this church from the parking lots in the rear of the church buildings, how could an effective “Greeters Ministry” work to make Angie and Rob’s experience never happen to any other visitors? 
3). What are your thoughts on the “witness and welcome” that Angie and Rob experienced from the ushers?  Did the ushers’ behavior demonstrate passionate hospitality to new people?   In what ways can Ushers make a positive witness as part of the larger Worship Team? 
4). Consider a young adult couple, visiting a large church for their first time.  Suddenly the Pastor or another leader calls attention to them – perhaps even asking them to speak publically.  How would young adults you know experience this?  What methods may be much more welcoming and sensitive to our visitors? 
            How would you rate our actual effectiveness in reaching out to those who are reaching in?  What changes would make a positive difference in our overall witness as a congregation with our visitors: The Guests of God, entrusted to our care and hospitality?  Our reaching out to those reaching in represents one of the most frequent opportunities we receive from God to model Divine Love. 
            Have you considered arranging training for your Staff, Leaders and Members, which would equip them to seriously increase the number of worship visitors returning, rather than disappearing?  It brings a tremendous difference in how we live out God’s love and grace each time God leads people to our congregation. 
Rev. Jim W. Hollis is a General Evangelist of The United Methodist Church.  He is the Founder and Executive Director of Proactive Ministries, a ministry that has provided effective ministry teaching and strategies with hundreds of churches across America since 1993.  You may reach Jim by email: or on Facebook.  Website: