Church Shopping: How Many Stars Would Your Church Receive?

I’m not currently serving a church, which means I’ve been church-hopping. It’s fascinating to see our beloved Presbyterian churches with the eyes of an outsider.

Every clergyperson should get the time and distance to do this. We would quit saying things like: Why don’t people go to church? Because we would know.

Last Sunday when I was guest preaching, I noticed a young mother trying to slip into a back pew. She couldn’t because the back pews were full. The back pews were the ONLY ones full because it was an early service on a cold morning. Attendance was low and there was a void in the center of the sanctuary. As a lay leader made the announcements, I watched the mother shepherd her son and daughter into a pew. The children looked to be early elementary age, and were so well-behaved that I assumed they were accustomed to being in church.

After the service, this mother shook my hand, beaming. When she spoke her name, I realized we had made acquaintance before. It turned out that she was a first-time visitor. She was full of joy for having walked into an unfamiliar church and spotted a familiar face in the pulpit.

After she got her children settled in Sunday School, we had a longer talk. She told me about her experiences church-shopping. She could report on every Presbyterian church in an eight mile radius. Her words were worth gold to those churches!

Between the two of us, we could have created a checklist:

  • How effective were Googlemaps and GPS in getting me to your door?
  • How convenient was parking? How difficult was it to determine which door to use?
  • Was I greeted at the door? Offered a bulletin? How easy/awkward was it to find a seat?
  • Did anyone other than the appointed greeter greet me? What did they say?
  • How was the singing? Did the congregation appear to enjoy singing? How varied was the music?
  • How did the choir sound? Did others appear to appreciate their musical offering?
  • Was the sermon an appropriate length? Did it flow well? Did it give something to think about in the week ahead? How engaged did people appear to be?
  • How loud/clear was the sound quality of the microphones?
  • How easy/difficult was it to get a cup of coffee during fellowship hour?
  • What activities were highlighted? What programs and ministries?
  • What was unusual or unique about this church?

The most important question, of course, is this one:

  • Will I return? Why or why not?

Friends, I urge you to see your church the way outsiders do!


One response to “Church Shopping: How Many Stars Would Your Church Receive?”

  1. Excellent reflection, Ruth! Am so glad you had the opportunity to visit with the visitor. These are excellent points that both pastors and sessions need to consider. After all, unlike the common parishioner myth, it it is the congregation who brings folks in and plays a large roll in keeping them. The pastor does play a significant part in keeping folks, but it is the “family” who keeps them!

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