“I doubt that church visiting is very effective anymore.”
That comment was made to me by an experienced pastor who has served several terms as a church visitor. He is not the only person to think that. Similar comments were heard by a team formed by Pastor Church Relations in response to synod 2012’s concern about the rising number of separations between congregations and their pastors. As this team listened to church visitors and others they found some examples of health, but more evidence that the practice needs to be reinvented.
Some may wonder whether it is worth the effort, but the waning of church visiting has created gaps that can be seen when yet another strained pastoral relationship goes unnoticed or another congregation slips into decline. As I’ve argued before, church visitors are the persons our polity empowers to help a council evaluate its ministry. Some have objected to that observation, but we all benefit from a fresh perspective. When it comes to our own health we know that self-diagnosis along with advice gleaned from the internet is not a recipe for success. The same can be said for auto repair, home renovations or church renewal. We are better off when we let someone help us see our situation with a fresh set of eyes.
As one piece towards building healthy relationships between pastors and churches, the team commissioned by Pastor Church Relations has created a Brief Guide to Church Visiting. The introduction emphasizes that strengthening the congregation is the first priority of Church Visiting, and that checking for and helping to attend to emerging concerns happens best in a context of mutual sharing and concern. The suggested questions provide a means for pursuing the kinds of conversations that will strengthen relationships.