Commentary by Prof. B: Our “Newcomer Integration Course” is designed by Dr. Charles Arn and includes the following guidelines for analyzing a church’s Sunday celebrations. Used by permission, these guidelines can help you evaluate your Sunday experience. It is best used on a church other than the one in which you serve. If you desire to evaluate your own service, then ask a colleague to undertake this exercise for you (and perhaps offer to return the favor for their congregation).
“Visit a Church” by Charles Arn, Ed.D, n.d.
One of the best ways to understand how a person feels when visiting a church for the first time…is to be one! This assignment involves visiting a church in your area that you have never previously attended, and then writing a report on your experiences. As a result of this assignment, you will hopefully be more sensitized to the experiences that visitors have when they attend your church.
When should your visit occur? Plan to visit a church in your community on the first, second, or third Sunday of this course.
What kind of church should you visit? Try to visit a church that is approximately the same size as yours…but a different denomination and liturgical style. DO NOT visit a church of your own denomination.
What are the instructions for your visit? You may attend with a friend, spouse, or family member. In fact, if you bring someone with you, you can debrief and compare notes, which will give you a more comprehensive evaluation of the overall experience. You do not need to attend the educational hour, unless you desire to do so.
Arrive at least ten minutes before the service begins. Do not tell anyone that you are there because of an assignment for a seminary class. Simply indicate that you wanted to visit a church that morning (or some similar response that isn’t exactly a lie, but also doesn’t “blow your cover”…). Play the role of a visitor. If you have children, bring them along as a further way to evaluate the “church visit” experience. If the church has a “coffee hour,” attend that, as well.
What are the contents of the paper? While your paper should be personalized to reflect your own experience and writing style, make an effort to address the seven topics below. A few “starter” questions are included under each topic. (You don’t need to answer every question.)
- INTRODUCTION. At the beginning of your paper, include the following:
- Name of the church you visited
- City and state
- Approximate number of people in the service the day of your visit
- Your own church’s name, denomination, and average worship attendance
After this, your paper/report should include the following categories:
- BEFORE Your VISIT. Check out the church the week before your visit in the same manner that a visitor might do so. Include drive-by impressions of the church building and facilities. Does the church have any yellow pages or newspaper advertising? If so, what are your impressions? Does the church have a website? What impressions do you have of the church based on its website?
Call the church office during the week before your visit and ask for more information about the service; adult and children’s classes, service time, style, dress, and other information of interest to a visitor. What impressions of the church did you get from the phone call?
- Before The service. What were your impressions driving into the parking lot or walking onto campus? Was the parking adequate? Was there parking for visitors? Handicapped? What did the outer appearance say to you about the church? Did you have any formal or informal contact with anyone before entering the building? Were there greeters before you entered the building? Were your initial impressions of the church confirmed or contradicted by your subsequent experience?
Once you were inside, what happened? Did anyone speak to you? Was there any indication that the church was expecting visitors/guests? Was there a Guest Center? If you had (or would have had) children, would you know where to take them? Would you feel comfortable leaving your children? Does the church appear to have considered children’s safety? What were your impressions of the Nursery (facilities and staff)? Restrooms? Signage? Classrooms? What priority does the church seem to place on their children’s ministry, and why do you think so?
When you entered the sanctuary, what first impressions did you have, and why? What about the seats? Lighting? Sound? Visibility?
- DURING The service. What were your impressions of the service, and why? Did the church seem to be expecting visitors in the service? Did you feel comfortable or uncomfortable as a visitor? Why?
How would you evaluate the following elements of the service:
- Opening • Bulletin/program
- Visitor welcome • Announcements
- Music • Flow
- Theme • In-house language
- Bulletin/program • Sermon
- Announcements • Closing
- After the service. Did anyone speak to you in the sanctuary/worship center after the service? In the lobby? Did what happened after the service affect or change your opinion of the church? Was there a time of fellowship or refreshments after the service? Were you personally invited to have refreshments? Did you go? Did anyone ask or invite you to return the following week? If you were an actual church shopper, would you be inclined to return for a second visit? Why or why not?
- After the visit. Were you contacted in any way the week after your visit? By whom? When? If you received a follow-up contact and you would have been an actual church shopper, did the contact affect your inclination to return?
- CONCLUSION. Summarize your visit and experience. Identify any particular experiences which impressed you (positively or negatively) and from which your church might learn. List any experiences or ideas that might be helpful to include in your own church’s welcome. Note any suggested changes in this assignment that might make the experience more beneficial for future classes/students.
(adapted from Dr. Arn’s course on “Newcomer Integration” which can be taken online for 3 credits at WesleySeminary.com)