Maybe The Most Important Three Minutes of Your Church Service

church pew

When was the last time you visited a church for the first time? If you had to identify the most important three minutes of the service what would you say?

I read an interesting article earlier this week in which the author suggested that, for a visitor, maybe the most crucial three minutes of the service were the three minutes immediately after the service has finished.

Now don’t misunderstand me – of course the singing, prayers, reading, and preaching are all arguably much more important. But if you’re a visitor, maybe not a Christian, or been away from church awhile, what (in addition to the quality of the aforementioned) might make the difference between a return visit and trying somewhere else (or nowhere else!).

We tend to think the few minutes before the service, or at the start of the service are key (and they are). But if you’re a visitor you’re most focused on finding somewhere to park, finding the right door to go in, picking up the bits of paper, finding a seat, getting your bearings, perhaps flicking through the notice-sheet or watching the screen, and generally getting yourself ready for the start of the service. But what happens as soon as the closing prayer is done?

I watched it happen recently. I was playing in the music team and I noticed a first-time visitor near the back. The two people next to her both turned away from her to talk to someone else. She sat there. Looked around a little, fidgeted in her seat – 30 seconds. She looked in her bag, fidgeted some more – another 30 seconds. She looked around again, to either side, at the screen, back into the bag – another 30 seconds. Then she picked up her things, put on her coat, slowly stood up, and slid past the people next to her – another 30 seconds. She’s now making her way to the door and cool air of a dark night. Will we ever see her again? Thankfully, at this moment someone moved over toward her and spoke with her just as she was reaching the door. They bought her back in and got her a coffee. She had three or four conversations with different folk. I’m hopeful we may see her again. Can you see how crucial that first couple of minutes are? If she’d left without being acknowledged by anyone around her I suspect she wouldn’t have felt too inclined to return.

It’s happened to me on a couple of different occasions. I’ve visited another church and at the end of the service no-one spoke to me. I smiled politely at a couple of people, said a quiet hello. They smiled politely back and nodded at me, then carried on with their conversation. After sitting for a couple of minutes and feeling like a complete nugget I got up and left. I wouldn’t go back.

We encourage the folk at Grace to ‘take five’ after every service to look out for and speak to someone they haven’t met before. As you can see it doesn’t always work, and we have to keep working on it. But it strikes me as something that’s perhaps more important than we realise, and something that we could improve relatively quickly and easily. I’d encourage you, in your church to be intentional about improving in this area, and to work on something similar. Encourage your folk to ‘take five’ – look for someone new, and just say ‘hi’. It could make all the difference.


7 Replies to “Maybe The Most Important Three Minutes of Your Church Service”

  1. would you speak to the people sitting either side of her? I wonder if we aren’t too polite and rely on the general encouragement. Yet the decision of some Christians to wilfully ignore people coming into our meetings to show an unloving disregard for the lost must be up there on the list of causing little ones to stumble.

  2. We visited a church in Edinburgh on our Sunday away from our home church . So we went in as regulars to church.
    We were handed a leaflet at the door by a young girl. Walked passed lots of people talking to each other… then went through another lobby into the church and stood at the back looking for where we could sit. We waited to see where people went. Still nobody approach these two strangers. We sat down 15 mins before service. Nobody spoke. Oh there was lots of chatter amongst regulars but still no one notice the strangers . At the end ,nobody spoke , not Ben on the way out .The only time anyone engaged was at that kind of cringe moment when in the middle of the service you are asked /told to turn to the person next to you and say hello! Job done …

    I’m writing this not as a stranger to church but who felt like one that Sunday. The church was full of chatter , great lighting, music and even preaching … the walls were inviting with up to date displays . BUT we felt totally uncomfortable and were missed off the radar. I was so glad we hadn’t taken an unbeliever .. explain that one ! Because he might before we’d been to the Edinburgh play House and received a great welcome .

    My point is not hurt that we were missed off any welcome that Sunday .. but I want to mak churches aware that you can have many elements of church done perfectly well,but if you miss the essential welcome and looking out for those on the fringe or who are new whilst chatting wholeheartedly to your own friends … there’s something missing.

    People need to find love, care and genuine warmth in church .It shows them who Jesus is , and if they go away feel g they get a better welcome in had local pub, or supermarket ,then why would they come to Church ?

    Please think about using people wisely and well as stewards or welcomers. Such a precious role .

  3. Excellent article! It is very difficult to be the ‘visitor’. Our lifestyle is on the road and we visit many churches as a result. In all our visits, only 2 churches stand out as excellent in their Welcome factor. One in Palm Bay, FL and one in Houston, TX. One of our favorite memories: We parked in the Visitors section. A lady arrived at the same time, rushed over to us, and asked if it was our first time to visit. She introduced herself, welcomed us, and invited us to sit with her. That had never happened before nor since! Coming into the foyer, she began introducing us to people she knew and pointing out who was who. As the piano player began playing, she told us about his background and that he plays for the Houston Orchestra.

    Her ‘hospitality’ profoundly helped us to feel welcomed and connected. In fact, we went back for the next Sunday and ended up sitting in the section unbeknownst to us where the Pastor’s wife and their adult kids and grandkids sat. After the service, the wife introduced herself and apologized for all the chaos around us with the kids. That became a good conversation starter…! We hope to visit there again when we are passing through that area.

  4. The other side of the coin is that we as visiting Christians do actually tend to stand out more than we realise. I am more concerned as to how churches are doing with the unbelievers who they should be hoping will stay and respond to the gospel. I think we can be bad visitors and get in the way of a church and its normal ministry to its community

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