First-Time Visitor Dos and Don'ts: Lessons from Charlottesville, Part 2

First-Time Visitor Dos and Don’ts: Lessons from Charlottesville – Part 2
Once in awhile, it’s good to be a first-time church visitor…just to see what new people experience when they come to your church. A couple of weeks ago I was in Charlottesville for a wedding. Since the United Methodist Church was just three-blocks from my hotel, I decided to go to an early Sunday service.
I settled into the pew and noted that no one said a word or sat by me.  During the service, the pastor asked if there was “anyone new.”  Now I am a flaming extrovert, but even I felt pretty weird as all eyes turned on me when I raised my lonely hand.  But…there was a prize for my bravery! I got a lovely loaf of banana bread. Perfect post-service breakfast food.
Afterwards, two nice people came up and said “hello” and asked where I was from. I got the impression that as soon as I said “Oregon,” they made a mental note – “Nice she’s here, she won’t be back.” I wandered out of the chapel, ready to go back to my hotel.
And then Elisa sought me out. “I didn't get a chance to meet you. Tell me about yourself.” When I said I was from Oregon, her eyes lit up and she said, “I know all about your state. I saw that piece on the Rachel Maddow show.”  And then we were in genuine conversation about Oregon’s attack owl, the resignation of our governor, and a host of other topics. Elisa ended the our chat by saying,
“I feel so honored to have met you.”
Wow. Her phrase continues to stick with me. Elisa salvaged what could have been a ho-hum and rather uncomfortable first-time-visitor experience into one that makes me wish I could return to that Charlottesville church again.
So here are the dos and don'ts about first-time visitors:
  • Don’t let me sit alone. This of course does not mean invading my space a la John Travolta at the Academy Awards, but at least sit close enough so it’s not awkward to lean over and say “hello.”
  • Don’t point me out during the service.  It feels very uncomfortable and it didn't seem to have any impact. I thought tons of people would excitedly try to meet me after the service once I waved my hand. Nope, didn't happen. I almost made it out with no one noticing.
  • Do give me something to remember you by. Whether that’s a loaf of bread that you give after the service or on my doorstep later, it’s an additional touch that says “Hey! We noticed you were with us. Please come back!”
  • Do designate welcome ambassadors.  We all know that everyone does not have the gift of hospitality. But there are some people who are naturals at it.  Be sure they see hospitality as their gift and ministry and give them permission to joyfully practice it.
  • Do make me feel special.  “I am so honored to have met you” was such a short, simple, and profound thing to say. Is there something that is authentic and genuine that you can say or do to make a first-time visitor know that his or her presence matters?
My Charlottesville adventure taught me many things: the kindness of strangers, the value of a simple hand-written note, what the inside of the ER looks like, and how to do a wedding just right. I was out of my comfort zone much of the time so I thank God for all those people who did all they could to make my visit a wonderful one (gastro-intestinal events aside). I trust that I will be more in tune with those people who may need that touch of Southern hospitality right here and now – which is another way of describing...Jesus’ love in action.
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. She's working on overcoming her fear of embarrassment and will make an effort to sit next to new people in church. Her position with the Conference is funded through a  generous grant from the Collins Foundation. You can reach her at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.