Saturday, January 16, 2010

Anchorage Church Blogger Chris Thompson Publishes Another Top Ten "To Do" List For Area Churches; How Well Do Latter-Day Saint Wards Measure Up?

For the second year in a row, Anchorage Daily News Church Visits blogger Chris Thompson has published an annual assessment of the outreach capabilities of the churches he's visited in Anchorage, Alaska during 2009. His post is entitled "Ten Things I’d Like to See More Anchorage Churches Confront in 2010". It appears my response to his 2008 assessment also attracted his attention; he states that "a Mormon-centric blog felt compelled to respond with a self-congratulating post stating all my concerns would likely be met in one of their churches".

While I certainly would hope that all his concerns would met by a visit to a typical LDS Church service, I certainly hadn't intended to give him the impression that I was "self-congratulating". I believe there is always room for improvement. So I am replicating his top ten points below, along with my assessment of where we stand. The ratings begin after the jump.

(1). Improve Hospitality Shown Visitors. Thompson continues to be dissatisfied with the response by many Anchorage churches in this category. Here's his standard: "Hospitable churches have multiple people covering all normal entrances to greet visitors and make them feel welcome. Several of these few hospitable churches will stand by and open the outside doors of their churches, greeting visitors with a handshake and a smile...Recruit and train responsible members of your church in hospitality procedures. Don’t single out visitors to identify themselves. Rather, members and the pastoral staff should find them and greet them hospitably and personally".

This is essential. In many LDS wards, the assigned full-time missionaries will stand in the foyer and greet unfamiliar visitors. However, members in key leadership cadre such as bishoprics, Elder's Quorum Presidencies, and Relief Society Presidencies should take turns doing this as well. We may not be able to meet Thompson's standard, but we can get much closer to it - and perhaps convert a few more people.

(2). Really Care for Your Church Website. It may be difficult for us to meet his standard in this area, because so much is driven by the LDS Church's main website, Individual wards do not generally make their websites accessible to the general public, requiring a password obtainable from the ward clerk. What we can do is to make it as easy as possible for the casual visitor to find the location and meeting times of the LDS wards in his or her hometown. The Meetinghouse Locator on the separate website facilitates this process.

(3). Make Your Church Sign Work for You. We probably cannot completely meet his standard in this area. The sign out in front of a chapel clearly says "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints", and just as clearly states "Visitors Welcome". However, it is not feasible to put the meeting times on the signs because more than one ward, or congregation, uses the typical chapel, and the meeting times are changed periodically. To compensate, all we can do is emphasize the need to use the online Meetinghouse Locator in advance to find out service times.

(4). More Extemporaneous Preaching. He doesn't like pastors merely reading their sermons. I don't think we have much of a problem in that area, although in general, individual ward members give talks. Not all ward members are exactly orators. In general, I think we meet his standards in this area.

(5). Send Follow-up Notes/Letters to Visitors. Thompson also emphasizes that no one should visit or call the investigator without the investigator's advance permission. If we offer the investigator a Book of Mormon after a service, it shouldn't always come with two missionaries attached to it.

(6). Less Musical Entertainment – More Musical Worship. Thompson complains about an excess of "showboating singers, guitarists, drummers, brass players, or keyboardists under the guise of Christian praise". I don't think we have a problem in that area, since our music is generally provided by either an organist or a pianist. The congregation sings the hymns, and hymnals are provided so that visitors can participate.

(7). Preannounce Guest Speakers. Most wards provide printed programs containing this information.

(8). Offering & Communion Should Be Made Visitor Friendly. Yes, yes, yes! We need to tell visitors in advance about the passing of the Sacramental emblems. They are passed separately - first the bread, then the water. We need to explain to visitors that partaking of the Sacrament represents a renewal of covenants made upon joining the Church. But we should also invite the visitor to partake if desired, according to the dictates of his or her own conscience.

(9). Pastors, Don’t Hide Behind Non-Specific Email Addresses. This simply means that if he e-mails a bishop, he expects that any response would be from that bishop - or at least one of his two counselors - rather than the ward clerk. However, Thompson needs to also understand that bishops delegate their authority, so he might receive a response from someone else who is specifically empowered to work the issue. This is a minor detail.

(10). Visit Other Churches Regularly. Highly recommended. My own infrequent visits to Anchorage Baptist Temple have given me insight into how that church operates and has increased my respect for other Christians.

Chris Thompson's individual church ratings are well worth the read, but can take time to wade through. I noticed that the Alaska Pride blog published an alphabetized index of every church visited by Thompson. Click on the church link, and it takes you directly to his evaluation of his visit to that church. Note that Thompson seems to particularly favor ChangePoint and Trinity Presbyterian; reading his reviews on those churches will give you an idea what they are doing right.

We should act as if every visitor to one of our services is another Chris Thompson. Or better yet, act as if every visitor is actually Jesus Christ in mufti. If we aim for the Savior's standard, we can't go wrong.

No comments: