I've been on the road a bit more than usual. My job as CEO of LifeWay requires that I spend most of my time in Nashville, but I do get out to speak and preach frequently. These past seven months have been unusually heavy travel times for a myriad of reasons, but I have tried to make the most of my trips.
Though I've not been a church consultant for several years, I do seem to see churches through consultant's eyes. That reality has been especially apparent as I visited many churches during the past seven months. So, even if I am the guest preacher, I enter the church grounds as a guest. I drive my own rental car, and I have to find parking and entrances just like everyone else.
So what have I found these past seven months? I could give you a fairly extensive consultation report about the churches, but I prefer to distill my words into just a few helpful hints. Each of these issues clearly needed addressing in most of the churches I visited.
1. Please have plentiful signage on the outside and inside. You can easily forget that we first-time guests don't have a clue where to park or where to enter. Most of the churches did not help us either. In one church the signage was so bad, I was uncertain if I was still on church property. Take another look at all your signage from the perspective of a first-time guest.
2. Many of your websites are terrible. Please make them user friendly. I want to see the worship times clearly on the home page. I want to be able to find the church's physical address. I want to know what the church believes. I found out a lot more about potluck meals and senior trips than I did doctrine and worship times. Most of the websites were designed for those who knew a lot about the church.
3. Show me where guests park. I recently humorously chastised a pastor for not having parking spots for guests. He thought he had me when he took me to a place that had 12 guests parking places. I then asked him how a first-time guest would locate these spots. His meager response was telling: "Oh."
4. Most of us will need to find a restroom. Please make them clear and obvious. Okay, that especially applies to someone my age. It seems like, in many churches, we have hidden restrooms so well that even Indiana Jones couldn't find them. I am thankful for a church member who gave me clear directions to the restroom; I just wish it had been the men's room.
5. Show me how to follow along in the Bible. I am the exception among most guests in that I always bring a Bible. But I watch preachers closely as they begin to preach from a particular biblical text. Very few told me to turn to a pew Bible. Some did put the text on the screen; that was helpful. Most made little effort to help guests follow along with the specific passage that was being preached.
6. Help me to know how to connect to a small group. You will likely lose members who attend worship only. You will likely keep those members who are in small groups or Sunday school classes. It's that important. Since it's that important, it should be mentioned in every worship service, particularly for first-time guests. It was mentioned in only two worship services of the churches I attended over the past seven months.
7. Help me know how to join the church. As a first time guest, it is not likely I will join the church my first visit. But I do want to know how someone joins the church. I would like to know the process for membership. I only heard that information from one of the churches I visited.
Though I became a bit road weary, I loved my recent excursions to churches ranging from 80 in attendance to megachurches. Indeed, I do love local churches. But many of them could make it a little easier and a little more pleasant next time I visit-or, more importantly, the next time someone from their community visits.