Secret Visitor rates Wytheville church: Friendly, but room for improvement
By Clint Cooper
The words on the sign in front of the church in the hilly Virginia town indicated the congregation was "visitor friendly."
But the sign should have said "friendly to visitors," because the Wytheville District church, in fact, was that.
An usher gave this visitor a hearty welcome and a bulletin on Sept. 12, which was designated National Neighborhood Day across the denomination. Three or four people sitting near me or heading up the aisle said hello or offered a handshake. Others greeted me during "hand of fellowship" time.
Visitors also were welcomed from the pulpit by the lay leader during announcements at the beginning of the service and encouraged to return.
From the many announcements and information in the bulletin, it appeared the church is a very busy and caring place. There were activities for men, women and children and indications the congregation was heavily involved in the community.
A lengthy list inserted in the bulletin suggested the congregation had a deep prayer life, and solicitations were made for other names prior to the pastoral prayer during the service.
The bulletin itself also was friendly in indicating when a visitor should stand during the service, that a nursery was available and where to find it, and how to contact the church office. Even the deaf were accommodated - as the service was partially interpreted with sign language - by the pastor, no less.
However, while being friendly to visitors, the church might want to take a few more steps to become visitor-friendly.
When this visitor scouted out the church the night before - assisted by the familiar blue United Methodist sign on the main highway two blocks away - the sign in front of the church read: 8:30 & 1 M.
Obviously, several numbers were missing. So, did that mean the worship service began at 10:30 a.m.? 10:45? 11 a.m.? Similarly, the sign wasn't very clear on the start time for Sunday school: It read 9:5 A.
Confused, I ended up arriving early on Sunday morning, to allow for all possibilities.
Several handicapped parking spaces were located directly in front of the church, yet the church steps were not handicap accessible. Another door may have provided better accommodations.
I saw no parking spaces designated for visitors, although spaces overall were limited since the middle-size church is in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
During the service, there was no time at which individual visitors were recognized. While many visitors prefer to remain anonymous, some congregations take this as an opportunity to provide visitors with information on the church.
There also was no member/visitor register. Had I been an intown visitor, there was no way to indicate I might want a call from this friendly church unless I passed someone a note.
At the service's conclusion, the pastor stood at the foot of the steps in front of the church. As I approached, he said, "I don't think I know you," which led to a pleasant exchange about hometowns and his former pastoral service near my home.
The church without a doubt is friendly to visitors, but it still could take action to live up to its sign and be more visitor-friendly.
Clint Cooper is faith editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press and a member of First-Centenary United Methodist Church
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