Church Visitor Horror Stories: Lost Generation

Church Visitor Horror Stories: Lost Generation

July 15, 2015 by

Last fall we started collecting Church Visitor Horror Stories to celebrate our book, Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive-Away First-Time Visitors by Jonathan Malm. It’s been scary stuff. But hopefully we can learn to be more welcoming.

The Lost Generation

We had just bought a small house in the country as a weekend escape from our home in New York City. As faithful churchgoers in Manhattan, and were eager to check out the local church of our denomination. I took my daughter for the first of what I anticipated would be many trips to this church.

No one greeted us when we arrived, but we followed the other kids to Sunday School. I dropped my daughter off with a woman who barely acknowledged us, and went upstairs to the service.

There was no visible usher, but there were some bulletins on a table near the door so I took one. I found a pew and settled down. The service began, and soon it was time to exchange the peace. I turned to the people behind me but they were otherwise occupied. I turned to the woman on my right, but she looked right through me. So I didn’t exchange the peace with anyone.

The service ended and at the door the pastor said, “Thank you for coming.” This was the first time anyone had spoken to me since I had arrived.

On the way home, I asked my daughter, “How was Sunday School?”

She replied, “Daddy, they pretended I wasn’t there.”

We stopped going to church when we were at our country home, even when we spent nearly every weekend there. My wife and I eventually found a church to become involved in, but my daughter never did. Today her and her husband are not involved in any church at all. –Geoffrey Brown

“Thank you for coming,” has never sounded so sad.

If you’re not willing to extend God’s peace, then take down your cross and be the social club you apparently are.

The Solution

These are the kind of stories that break our hearts. We’ve talked about churches where the congregation fails to be welcoming and we’ve talked about churches where the children’s ministry drives visitors away.

But here’s a case where everything seems to have gone wrong. And the tragic result is someone walking away from church.

Now certainly one botched visit isn’t going to turn anyone away from the church. God can move despite our failures.

But why would your church want to create one more obstacle in someone’s path to faith rather than helping them along the journey?

Sadly, these are the stories where we have to ask why this church exists. If you’re not willing to welcome people, if you’re not willing to extend God’s peace to a stranger in your midst, if you’re so self-involved that you act like a child isn’t there—then you have no business calling yourself a church. You’re a country club. Take down your cross and just be the social club you apparently want to be.

As dire as the situation is for a church like this, all hope is not lost. All things are possible with God—even turning a cold-shouldered, snooty little church into a warm and welcoming body.

It’s not going to be easy though. It’s going to take bold and decisive leadership that’s willing to do whatever it takes to change the atmosphere. That’s going to mean offending the ‘That’s how we’ve always done it’ crowd. That’s going to mean some hard conversations. That’s going to mean some difficult work on what should be the basics of human decency.

A church like this is going to need a new vision that goes to the very heart of the church and is then communicated out through every action, every sermon, every communication. You’ll need to hammer it into people’s heads. And then hammer some more.

The first step is recognizing how unwelcoming your church truly is. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but things can get better.


Unwelcome Now Available: Covering reserved seating and other sins.

Photo by Tommy Clark.
Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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