Self Diagnosis and Church Visiting


“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.  

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  • In quotes "Historically, the practice of church visiting is for the purpose of “strengthening” churches, not ruling or
  • policing them. Section II provides text from Church Order article 42 specifying practices and purpose.
  • There is a strong emphasis on accountability while avoiding hierarchy. Together we hold each other
  • accountable, but no lording it over each other. The aspects of church visiting are: ascertain (data
  • gathering); admonish (when necessary); advise (upon request); and hold accountable (church visitors
  • report to classis). It is up to classis to appoint church visitors who are experienced and competent in the
  • task."

No wonder church visiting is no longer effective. If we keep doing the same thing (note the word historically!!) and expect better out comes, we better abolish this practice. I have reread the document that covers church visiting. It is all complicated and dated language and way too much of it. No two visitors could cover things that are listed.  We need a much more practical approach.

1) Interview every person that is being paid be the church (each less than 1 hour).  2) Get all statistical information re membership either from the church of get it from the annual Year Book and 3 years of financial information. 3) Ask for a list of donors (without names) and the annual contribution per donor for the same 3 years.

From those three pieces of information a very good picture of the local church and its issues will become obvious. Two experienced church visitors will be able to make up a report that would be very helpful and/or pose questions that would motivate the church leaders to look at their own situation in a different way.