So, this week instead of visiting a new church I came back to one I’d already visited- as a guest speaker. I spoke about my project to the people at Glenmont Community Church. Hopefully it wasn’t obvious how nervous I was. I like talking about my church adventures; the scary part is addressing a crowd of people who I don’t really know. I think I did alright. I got a lot of positive feedback afterwards so I’m happy that a number of people at least found it somewhat interesting. For the benefit of those who were not in attendance I will now try to reproduce most of what I talked about:
I introduced myself and said I was raised Catholic. I’m actually from Plattsburgh, NY. I came to Albany for college and wound up staying. I have been a member at several churches but had become disconnected from my latest church. I thought about looking for another new church, but wanted to try out several. Then I realized I could try even more than several , hey, I could try ALL of them! So I looked up Christian churches around my area. There are enough churches within 10 miles of my house to keep me busy for 3 years!
I mentioned my ground rules. I made a point of mentioning my laid back attire. The reason for my outfit is twofold: I want to feel as comfortable as possible in a new place, and I like to know people will accept me even in slouchy clothes. I also mentioned that I keep myself grounded during the journey by knowing that my spiritual home is inside me.
I recalled some of the things I notice as a visitor, including 1) greeting 2) worship style 3) teachings 4) building layout 5) service format.
After getting into the preliminary details I invited Pastor Abby to ask me questions that she might like me to touch on if I hadn’t already. We also welcomed questions from my audience. This part was less scripted out beforehand, so I’ll do my best to remember how it all went.
I talked several times about the Kingdom Hall (Jehovah’s Witness) visit. I said that I stood out like a sore thumb and that I was greeted constantly on the way to my seat. I think I called the service “different” and “mildly brainwashy”. This was from the fact that the format entailed asking comprehension questions of their congregation and getting back answers that seemed like a mere regurgitation of the texts.
I mentioned being surprised by strong positive and negative reactions to my project at various churches. At church 1 the pastor said he didn’t think I’d find what I was looking for. Then at church 2 the pastor called my project “cool”. One of my audience members told me church 1’s pastor was wrong and that he was baffled by the negative response. (Thanks for that by the way, positive support is always nice!)
I mentioned both Reformed churches in a positive light. I said Glenmont Community was easier to navigate because of having a single worship space. Delmar Reformed church has the two worship spaces, but my confusion was easily remedied there by asking a member where to go.
I got a question regarding “coffee hour” or that time after a service when people mingle and have snacks. I do try to attend those if I’m not in a hurry. One church ran long and I needed to dash off to lunch. And the Catholic church on my list had no coffee hour at all. I didn’t even get to see the priest after mass because he ducked into that little room behind the altar and didn’t come out. That was an incredibly disappointing Sunday for me. I expected far better from my own religious heritage.
Someone asked if I’d seen a great deal of consistency between different churches of the same denomination. I haven’t seen too many repeats yet- only one in fact. After I mentioned this pastor Abby remarked that maybe I should come again after a couple years -I’d have many more churches to talk about.
I fielded a question about the content of sermons I’d heard. So I told the group about the Abraham sermon at church 2 which I enjoyed for the historical knowledge it relayed. I guess I probably gave the best plugs for church 2 and both the Reformed churches, which is fairly accurate.
There was a woman who asked about what churches ought to do in order to welcome people and specifically what they could do. I told the story of the awesome greeting I got from Mt Moriah Church. They used what I’m gonna call the 6 minute rule. A person greeted me with hello and a question or two. Then they left me alone. About 6 minutes later another person came up and did the same. The 6 minute window is good because it enables the newcomer to relax and absorb the greeting. It also says to me that each member individually decided to come up and greet me- none of them was just following suit. This is great because it means they are not just paying attention to the in-group. They are aware of visitors and want them to feel welcome. I briefly went into a theory I’ve been developing in my head about churches drawing new members. Take the same advice given to people seeking a job or a boyfriend/girlfriend; be yourself. Ultimately a person joins a church because they like the qualities of that church as a whole. Visitors will make their decision to stay because they like a church for what it is and not for what it’s trying to be. I think the very best message you can give to a visitor is “we are glad you came”. It is positive and honest and it puts no pressure on them to return. Pressure to “please come back next week” can come off as desperate. I guess I didn’t follow this through to its logical conclusion in my talk, but who wants a church that seems desperate for your membership? Any other time this would be a big red flag. What’s wrong with them that they want me so badly?
So that was what I remember of the talk I gave. Afterwards I got to talk with people who still had questions or comments. I welcome further questions or comments here, if anyone is interested. Or if you just want to talk via email, leave a comment requesting I contact you and I’ll reply to your email address.