Eight Terrible Church Visits

When I led a church consultation company, one of the more common facets of my consultation was an on-site visit to a worship service. The person I hired to conduct the visit could know nothing about the church. Ideally this “mystery guest” would be an unchurched person, so that he or she could give an honest assessment from the perspective of someone who knows little about churches.

I requested that the mystery guest evaluate different areas of the visit, but I was always most interested in the overall score. They submitted a score of one to seven. The lowest score meant that the visit was terrible, and they would not return under any circumstances. I recently retrieved some of these “one” reports. Inevitably there was one event that took place that made the visit so bad. Let me share eight of those events in eight different terrible church visits.

  1. “I was asked to introduce myself in the worship service. There were probably 150 or so present, so all the members knew I was a guest. I had no choice but to speak up and tell them something about me. I felt so uncomfortable standing up and speaking to everyone present.”
  2. “I had to walk fifty yards in the rain. There was no guest parking. No one offered me an umbrella. Apparently the members got there early so they could get the best parking spaces in the inclement weather.”
  3. “The preschool area was dirty and not secure. I took my two-year old with me, but I would not leave her in the church’s preschool area. You could tell they didn’t care about the cleanliness and the safety needs of little children. So I took my child to the worship service. That proved to be another headache.”
  4. “Everyone talked in code. I had no idea what the preacher and the members were talking about. What in the heck is a WMU? What is a time of intercessory prayer? I figured out the responsive reading thing when I saw people reading from their hymnals.”
  5. “Someone told me I was sitting where their family sits. That really ticked me off. I didn’t see a reserved sign there. If I was not getting paid to do this, I would have said a few words to them and walked out of the service before it ever began.”
  6. “No one spoke to me. They certainly spoke to people they apparently knew, but I was not a part of their cliques. I felt badly just being there. I wanted to get up and leave on the spot.”
  7. “The preacher screamed the whole time. He had one tone and one volume: loud! Why do these preachers think their voices and their decibels have to change when they begin preaching? It seems so inauthentic. To top it off, I had a terrible headache after enduring 45 minutes of his screaming.”
  8. “They had a business meeting during the worship service. Now that was awkward. I really got uncomfortable when some of the members began disagreeing. It was tense. I will never, ever, ever go back there again.”

In each of these cases, the mystery church guests assured me that the visit was so bad and so uncomfortable that they would never return. Could some of these experiences happen at your church? Do you know of other terrible church visits?

Posted on October 15, 2012

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Thom Rainer says on

    Brian and Al –
    Ouch x 2.

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Adam –
    You are so right, but many of these people did not listen to the message because of something that happened before the preaching began.

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Josh –
    You are right.

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Grant –
    Thanks so much for your kind words. We would like to help you if we can. Contact [email protected] and let’s see what we can do. You are definitely in my prayers.

  • Some time back, during “testimony time,” one of my deacons took the opportunity to chide the rest of the congregation for their “not caring about people” because he did not see them involved in his favorite ministry.
    It was not surprising that none of that day’s visitors ever returned.

  • I am in a church where they asked visitors to stand and introduce themselves. I won’t let them do that anymore, but they don’t understand how it makes a guest feel. They actually think it’s hospitality. 🙁

  • The most common experience that makes for a “terrible church visit”, for me, is the utter lack of coherent teaching from Scripture.

  • One more: I was just plain bored. I kept looking at my watch.

  • Hey Thom,
    I am a 23 year old Pastor who’s just been hired to revitalize a dying Church in my neighborhood by leading them as their Senior Pastor. Just wanted to ask for your prayers and say thanks for your work and resources, Breakout Churches was so encouraging to read during this time of preparation!

  • Thom Rainer says on

    John and Jim –
    I received a comment on Twitter about this blog: “Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.” I felt the same way when I read each of your comments. Thanks for sharing.

  • I visited a church of my own denomination while on vacation and when they found out I was a pastor they asked if I would preach that morning because all they had was a “Layman” filling in. I said no and later in the service when they introduced visitors and had us stand they made sure to say I was a pastor and that they had asked me to speak and I turned them down.

  • Years ago before I was in the ministry my wife and I visited one of the larger churches in the city we had just moved to. We stood at the visitor desk for several minutes while members chatted with one another. Once they finally acknowledged us, instead of showing us where the young married Sunday School class was, they just gave us directions to find it ourselves. When we found it and sat at one of the many tables in this huge room, the other two couples that were sitting there picked up their Bibles and moved to another table without a word. Another couple did come join us, but they were first time visitors too and had the same experience of being abandoned at their table too! We are still friends with that couple 20 years later but never went to that church again. With them, we joined another church in the town and faithfully served there for four years until we moved to another state.

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