Church Visitor Horror Stories: Stalker

Church Visitor Horror Stories: Stalker

October 31, 2014 by

"Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Visitors," including reserved seating.For the past two weeks we’ve been asking for your Church Visitor Horror Stories. It’s been scary stuff. Thanks for sharing your church visitor horror stories.

It’s all part of the launch festivities for our new book, Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive-Away First-Time Visitors. It’s 20% off this week only, so grab a copy today before prices go up this weekend.

We already shared the story of the fired pastor and the reserved seating. Now we’ll share the scariest story we heard, our grand prize winner:

Horror Story Winner: Stalker

After moving to a new small town, my husband and I went church shopping. We were quite open to whatever congregation felt like a good fit for us, regardless of the denomination.

So we headed out one Sunday morning to a local church, found the service wasn’t a good match for our personal needs, but still felt like it was a worthwhile endeavor. When the service ended, we had a few “Good morning!” and “Welcome!” conversations with members as we made our way to the door, all pleasant enough.

Ahh, but to actually exit the building, not so much.

We were trapped at the door by the pastor and two members. They insisted we simply must sign a guest register. OK, there, now we can go. Not so fast. They needed our address, too. We explained our desire to be on our way, just getting a feel for churches in the new town, need to get home to let the dog out, etc. Does that sway them? Oh, no. They literally blocked the door and persisted, saying that they just needed a bit more info. This went on for close to 10 minutes.

Finally my husband had enough. He brusquely edged the pastor away from the door and said we were going. This was not the kind of atmosphere we could relate to. We left thinking we had run the gauntlet and could definitely cross this one off our list. At least it was over.

Not quite. A few days later, we started getting mail from the church and individual members. One woman wrote that she had noted our license plates and then drove around town until she found our car parked at our home. Really?! I’m sure there were any number of ways to track someone down in a town of that size, but come on, out-and-out stalking? How would you think that doing so and then telling people that you did would entice anyone to come back? -Annette Carr

Wow. I’m hoping we don’t get an update involving a chainsaw. Congrats Annette! Or should we say sorry? As consolation for your horror, you’ll be getting a signed copy of Unwelcome and as our grand prize winner a $25 Amazon gift card.

“Your church must expect visitors so you can welcome them with grace.”

The Solution

Again, wow. Visiting a church is scary, but it shouldn’t be that scary.

I’d guess this all went down because the church wasn’t actually expecting any guests. Sure, they hoped some guests would show up. But they had no idea what to do when a guest actually graced the doors of the congregation. It’s like the dog that chased cars all its life, then finally caught one and had no idea what to do with it.

Step One: Expect Visitors

God is looking—yes looking—for congregations to send people to. He is constantly working to draw people to himself. And he wants to send people to churches. Prepare your church to be one of those.

Your church must expect visitors so you can welcome them with grace.

Step Two: Put a Plan in Place for How You’ll Welcome Guests

Decide what information you actually need. So often we assume we need every single bit of contact information in order to adequately reach out to a guest. But the truth is, you’ll probably only send them an email or a phone call. Unless you have something printed up and ready to send them, you probably don’t need their address. Ask for only the information you need.

Then you need to decide how much you will reach out to a guest. One phone call? Two calls over the week? One letter? Two letters over two weeks? Decide and stick with it. Then make sure everyone is on board (no rogue lay people tracking down license plates).

I like to think of visiting a church as a first date. I want the church to look and smell nice. I want them to be polite and friendly. But if they try to invade my personal space or if they come on too strong, there will be no future dates. Play it cool. Don’t dominate the conversation. And show more interest in the date than in yourself.

Your church service can either turn into a dream date, or a date from hell for visitors. My hope is that you opt for the former instead of the latter.


Unwelcome Now Available: Covering reserved seating and other sins.

Photo by Tommy Clark.
Post By:

Jonathan Malm

Jonathan Malm is a creative entrepreneur and writer. He is the author of Created for More (Moody, 2014), a 30-day devotional to help you develop a more creative mind.
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