I’ve blogged before about how church visitation makes my skin crawl. It gets me all weirded out for no good reason at all. It is one of two places that my “introverted” side really shines through – the other being the sheer exhaustion that comes over me when I finally get back home after a morning spent at church on a Sunday.
I think part of the reason visitation is so awkward for me (and not the actual visits… and not hospital visits or nursing home visits… its working up to the visit and actually arriving on the doorstep that is hard) is that I don’t want to intrude on people’s lives. I don’t want to show up unannounced. I don’t want to butt in. I know lots of people who would prefer to simply be left alone. Frankly, when someone shows up on my doorstep – even if I’m kind of expecting them – and I’m wearing my fuzzy red pajama pants and my glasses are on and my hair is hastily in a ponytail – I would rather not answer the door. And I’m certainly not going to invite them in.
big problem if you want to be a pastor who tends the flock.
Big problem that I think I have solved.
I now invite folks to invite me over. Or invite them to stop by. Or invite them to let me know where/when we can meet for coffee.
I’m sending out these little postcards to folks, one chunk of the alphabet at the time. And they have the chance to mail them back or drop them in the offering plate and give me some feedback:
Sure- come on over to my house, and here are the times that are good for me.
How about we meet for coffee or lunch somewhere?
I would love to come into the church and visit with you in your office.
Thanks for the offer, but I am not interested in a personal visit at this time.
Just making that decision, to put the ball in my members court, was liberating.
Today, I had my first visit in someone’s home as a result of using these cards. And it was awesome. I got the grand tour of her house. We had danish and cups of tea in the kitchen. She sent me home with some apples from the tree in her backyard. We talked about her family and the ways that she had served the church and she had the opportunity to ask me questions about a new position she was taking on for the next year. And it was because she knew I was coming, and I knew she was expecting me, and because we both wanted to get to know one another better that we had such a wonderful time.
In some ways, I felt like by using this new method I was cheating just a little bit, but after talking with my superintendent, he helped me to realize a few things.
First – this allows my congregation members to respond as they feel comfortable. This is a german community and folks are pretty private. They don’t let you into their personal lives easily. We would rather put on a proud face than admit we have problems and while we are quick to help out, we resist help from anyone else. This method allows those who want to visit the opportunity to do so – in their own way.
Second – it takes the pressure off the cold calls. It allows me to be more comfortable, because I already know that this particular person or family is expecting me. They aren’t worried about what their home looks like, because they invited me to come over. They aren’t rushing out the door for a soccer game, because this is a time that is good for them. They are prepared for me to show up. Or we are meeting somewhere at a specific time and have the chance to grab a cup of coffee and we both know that this time is set aside for a conversation.
Third – It lets folks know that I really do care about them, that I’m willing to make the effort to get out and see them… even if they are people that haven’t been to church in ages. Most of those folks are not going to return the cards. And so the question that I’m struck with is – do I call and follow up? Or do I respect their decision not to reach out? I think the sentiment we ended on was that if I continue to make these kinds of efforts – not right away – but every once and a while – they’ll know I really do care. That I’m not pestering. And that when they are ready – I will be too.