Can I help you?

imageVisitors? Do pastors and congregations do all they can to make the visitor’s time of worship a Christ-centered time on Sunday mornings? As a pastor, I would like some feedback on what other pastors do in the congregations they serve to engage the visitors and to get the visitors engaged in the worship of the true God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I would also like to hear from the laity about what the congregation does to receive the visitors when they arrive.

Mr. Jim Pierce has written a fine piece from the perspective of a visitor in a congregation. The title is “The Divine Service Can Be Like Going to Mars.” You can read it here.

Brothers of John the Steadfast received following comment:

“Going into a Lutheran Church for the first time was an amazing experience and got me very concerned. The formality, the terminology, the ‘upper class’ pompousness all got me highly confused. And, no one took any time to explain anything to me. It was only after searching the net and asking questions that I got given information, and even that took some asking! It was almost like ‘These are our secrets and we are not willing to share them!'”

As a pastor, comments such as this haunt my dreams. God’s House of Prayer is not a “secret” society where only the select few get in and get to participate. It is a hospital for sinners. All people are welcome. All people need the gifts of God that flow from the foot of the cross. People need to confess their sins. They need to be absolved. They need Jesus!

As a pastor, I, for the most part, am vested 30 minutes before worship begins. I greet the members and the visitors personally. If a visitor comes in another entrance, my ushers or elders inform me and I go to them.

  • I welcome them.
  • I introduce myself.
  • I ask them where they live.
  • I ask them where they go to church.
  • I ask them is they are Missouri Synod members.
  • If they are, I invite them to the Lord’s Table.
  • If they aren’t, I explain our confession of Closed Communion. I offer them a Baptismal blessing if they are Baptized or a blessing if they are not.
  • I or the ushers give them a large print ordo (bulletin) that provides the entire service in a booklet. I do this so they don’t get lost in the Liturgy.
  • I greet them after the worship service.
  • I invite them to fellowship and Bible study.
  • I always invite them back and ask them to call if they want to talk or ask questions about anything.

I try to get the congregation to be cognizant of visitors and have taught them, that if they see someone struggling during worship, go and sit with them and render them mercy and instruction. This practice may be easier or more difficult depending on the Christians in the House of God.

I believe we have a great responsibility to visitors who come to hear the Word of God.


Can I help you? — 19 Comments

  1. At our church, we give first-time visitors a special bulletin insert, the text of which is also HERE on our web site. We actually print the entire text of the service (except for the hymns) in everyone’s bulletin, not just in a special bulletin for visitors. The regular members appreciate this, since it removes the need always to be switching back and forth between the bulletin and the hymnal, and between the front and back of the hymnal; and this allows the flow of the service to be more fully experienced and more deeply appreciated. Mothers juggling young children on their hips also appreciate being able to follow the service with the use of only one hand.

    We don’t have any official “greeters” at our church. We emphasize instead that everyone is a greeter. And because our members genuinely enjoy coming to church, they are truly happy to see new people. Their willingness to greet and welcome visitors seems to flow out very naturally. If they were themselves not happy to be there, or to be Christians, then I doubt that pasted-on smiles would make very much of a positive impression on guests.

  2. I have tried many things that are stated above. The one thing I do that is most “welcoming” is I am in the entryway after Bible class to personally greet any and all who come in.

  3. My grandparents’ church in Estes Park gave visitors a small embroidered rose sticker for the lapel and invited visitors to introduce themselves (if they were comfortable doing so) after the service before being ushered out.

    Others I’ve seen have greeters, but greeters often get caught up talking to friends and known members and just give the visitors a handshake. At one former church I attended, one gentleman had appointed himself the greeter for everyone, whether he was the official “greeter” or not. He talked to everyone and welcomed them every Sunday and was very memorable.

    I think the most important introduction is for the pastor to greet the visitors. The pastor is the authority figure in the congregation, and visitors identify him as such.

    Explaining the liturgy is important, whether as a small blurb in the bulletin, resource references, or a full printing of explanation.

    An anecdotal story: one friend of mine attended a LCMS church with his ex-wife, and told me he never felt welcomed even by the pastor. When he and his wife divorced, he left the Lutheran church and went to a Community/non-denom church were the people were friendlier. While doctrine SHOULD be the primary reason to attend a church, losing the opportunity to teach correct doctrine due to unfriendliness is unfortunate.

  4. I, too, vest early, 15 minutes prior is usually sufficient.

    Having windows near the door, I can see the visitors coming up the walk before they enter. If I am chatting with a member and I see a visitor coming up the walk, the members know that when I say “visitor” – I have business to which I must attend. I’ve done that since day one, and now, after I first greet the visitor(s), members gather round and take over. Teach by example.

    They are offered coffee (if there is time); I have several members that have taken it upon themselves to seat themselves next to, or right behind the visitors, and assist them if they seem lost. I usually follow most of what Pr. Wurst does, and let them know that if they get lost for whatever reason, just take it in and put the hymnal down. I always ask each visitor before service if they would mind if I introduce them after worship – some folks don’t want that.

    And bottom line is – do the Divine Liturgy and preach as if you mean it (I pray we all do!) – the visitors will “get that” right away.

    Pax tecum – jb

  5. @David Jay Webber #1

    Pr. Webber,

    Thank you for your support and comments. I love the special insert you provide. I copied it to the hard drive for potential future use. Thanks.

    I also love the last line of your post which read, “If they were themselves not happy to be there, or to be Christians, then I doubt that pasted-on smiles would make very much of a positive impression on guests.”

    How true, how true, how true!!!!

  6. @Joel Dusek #3


    I think this stigma of Lutherans having a “secret society” comes from the fact that the Lutheran “Christians” are *not* friendly. There is no greater way to chase off a visitor than passive-aggressive behavior or just plain meanness.

    Oh, if you do ever see that man in your grandparents congregation, tell him to keep greeting!

  7. @jb #4

    You stated, “And bottom line is โ€“ do the Divine Liturgy and preach as if you mean it (I pray we all do!) โ€“ the visitors will โ€œget thatโ€ right away.”


  8. I found the church’s website to be helpful. Every now and then we are traveling on a Sunday and we can look at the church’s website on the phone. I remember once we looked at the map at where we were, found an LCMS church in that town and were able to call and confirm the service times and so on. When you have kids in the car, you want to make good time towards your destination, so using the website on a mobile phone helps you connect with a great church to visit and not miss the service due to traveling. So, I think the church does well to have a website that tells visitors what to expect.

  9. Pastors, do you teach your sheep how to be good guests at other flocks? How do you expect your laity to be good welcomers if you don’t first teach them to be good guests?

    LSB is a wonderful hymnal when considering that it has no duplication of hymn and liturgy page numbers. It’s lacking by not including Introits, Graduals, Proper Prefaces, etc. You want visitors to return? Don’t treat them like they’re stupid. For that matter, don’t treat your members as if they’re stupid. We are all capable of turning to a page number. You want everything before the worshiper? Print the Introit, Gradual, Proper Prefaces for them.

    My mom didn’t have to balance hymnal with kids. We had page 5 and 15 in TLH. Mom knew them by heart. I knew them by heart by the time I was 8, five years before I was confirmed. We didn’t need five settings.

    That which was once simple has been made complicated. Why does it, now fall upon the laity to make it simple?

  10. @David Jay Webber #1

    That is a great sheet to give out!

    Do you have one that explains the language, Nunc Dimitus, Kyrie Elesion etc. and the bits and bobs around the Church like the baptismal font, the altar decorations and so on?

    Someone gave me a booklet called “Our way of Worship” by Jungkuntz and Gehrke, which gives a lot of information but still does not explain the candle sticks and so on – these were explained to me by an Anglican Bishop, as they have them. They also hold a class twice a year in his diocese where they go over all these sort of basics for new folk, sadly, no booklet!

  11. To take the other side of the coin: we have to also understand that, while we should offer as much friendliness and explanation as can be reasonably expected, there are, quite frankly, some people who just refuse to acknowledge genuine attempts at friendliness (or, perhaps, misconstrue sound doctrine at the Sacrament of the Altar or elsewhere as “unfriendliness”). We should not beat ourselves up unnecessarily…and I honestly think that there are many congregations out there who do. I tend to see this “sin of unfriendliness,” if you will, in the same light as the sin against the Holy Spirit: if you’re worried that you’ve committed it, you haven’t.

  12. Coffee and donut time after the service if possible. Just make sure you have fantastic donuts ๐Ÿ™‚

    We visited a Lutheran church while in Bowling Green,KY and they gave us a recipie book compiled from the various members. Made quite the impression on us, and has been fun to use for dinner (ever had homemade sloppy joe mix?)

  13. @Stef #10

    “Do you have one that explains the language, Nunc Dimitus, Kyrie Elesion etc. and the bits and bobs around the Church like the baptismal font, the altar decorations and so on?”

    I do not. But some of these things are discussed and explained from time to time in sermons, Bible classes, and newsletter articles.

  14. David Jay Webber :@Stef #10
    โ€œDo you have one that explains the language, Nunc Dimitus, Kyrie Elesion etc. and the bits and bobs around the Church like the baptismal font, the altar decorations and so on?โ€
    I do not. But some of these things are discussed and explained from time to time in sermons, Bible classes, and newsletter articles.

    Or one could try a hymnal… LSB has at least an introductory meaning….

    Kyrie = Lord Have Mercy (pp. 152,168, 186, 204, 214)
    Gloria in Excelsis = Glory to God in the Highest (pp. 154, 170, 187, 204, 214)
    Sanctus = Holy, Holy, Holy (pp. 161, 178, 195, 208, 217)
    Pax Domini = the Peace of the Lord (pp. 163, 180, 197, 209, 217)
    Agnus Dei = Lamb of God (pp. 163, 180, 198, 210, 217)
    Nunc Dimittis = Song of Simeon (pp. 165, 182, 199, 211)

    Some are accurate to the Latin, others describe what the word is referring to. And that is just the 5 Divine Service settings. There is still the lesser services: Matins, Vespers, Compline, etc. And LSB has a multitude of Bible verses showing where so much of the Liturgy comes form. (God’s own Words, not all of it man’s made up stuff) Sad that so many wish to s***can the hymnal. It is a beautiful resource. Well worth the money compared to printing costs and time spent assembling bulletins. I feel it is sorely underappreciated.

  15. Thank you – Yes, I have the hymnal so I can get those meanings, I was thinking for folk that are visitors.

    But what I don’t have is all the altar stuff – does anyone have anything explaining all the decoration stuff around the Church and on the table/altar please?

  16. Stef,

    There was an article series not long ago on the various altar decorations and things, but I don’t reacall if it was here or over at Intrepid Lutherans. Might do a search on each site. It was very interesting, and could be adapted for visitors.

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