“Welcome” by Dr. Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

You may also like...

69 Responses

  1. Scooter Jones says:

    4.5 million to re-brand the church as “welcoming”.

    That’s some story there.

  2. mk says:

    How ironic! Well written – thanks for sharing.

  3. Jean says:

    I wonder, then, what the value might be of sincere smiles, greetings, and pleasant conversation and follow up?

    I don’t think we can outsource those attributes to a building and signage.

    Makes me wonder if the Gospel is regularly proclaimed there, aside from the Eucharist.

  4. Descended says:

    I like the imagery you portrayed; grey, wet, wordless. Like an echo.

    What would happen if you approached a member or pastor and said, “Hi, I’m feeling like crap today, how are you?” I know it’s not as original as Id like it to be, but maybe you’d get an honest response, instead of an easy offer of a prayer solution?

    I’ve been approaching our church search with the notion that the greyer the heads, or the more “raw” the congregant, the more reason we might have to stay. Seems the older one gets, the less need for pretense.

  5. Tim says:

    I’ve been a Christian for 20+ years. I have been through things that would make for a nice story about “why I don’t go to church anymore.” Personally, my faith in God and my desire to be faithful to Him leads me to still ‘go to church.’ There are good ‘institutional’ churches out there people. I’ve perused threads here off and on and have heard a lot of church horror stories. I have a few myself. CC first 15 years as a Christian…. CCBC, etc. We are now at a reformed baptist church that we love. Good fellowship, love, freedom, solid teaching, missions minded. There are good local congregations of Gods people out there. Anyone in Indianapolis, hit me up. I’ll point you to a few. Peace.

  6. JoelG says:

    Wow Duane that was rough. I’m sorry you had to experience that. Sounds like they had good churchmanship but a lack of humanity. Thank you for the reminder to go out of our way to welcome “outsiders”. I know I will be looking next Sunday.

  7. Scooter Jones says:

    The church could pay 125 members $200 a month for 10 years to be “welcoming” and they would save money on that project

  8. EricL says:

    They are letting their leadership lead them into grim financial ruin. A church of 150-200 that is already behind with $4.5 million in maintenance and they are wanting to spend more on remodeling the place? They are fools, unless that little group is one made of millionaires or the leadership has been sitting on an unspent dragon’s pile of gold and jewels. (An historic church near my home was only able to repair a failing roof because they owned most of the houses on the next street and they sold two of them to get the money.) Even the friendliest congregation in the land wouldn’t find it easy to overcome such a financial deficit. A gang of grouches? No way.

  9. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Duane – sad experience.
    My wife and I visited the local Lutheran church in Lake Havasu AZ. They had us stand, introduce ourselves, gave us a pen and a coffee mug and after the service fed us cake.

    Like Pavlov’s dog, we have been back every weekend we go up. 🙂

  10. Duane Arnold says:

    Thanks all! Just to say, everything I referenced in the article was 100% true. No hyperbole as, unfortunately, none was needed.

    A friend who read this made the comment, “They will know we are Christians by our love, not our architecture”.

  11. Duane Arnold says:

    #3 Jean

    Yes, I wonder as well. Yet, all around I see a booming business in firms providing a new church logo, a new name, new sound system, etc., promoting the idea that it will “fix the problem”… and the churches continue to decline and die.

  12. Jean says:


    A few days ago on a different thread I mentioned that my son visited a mega church where the 35 minute sermon was more of a 35 minute membership drive. What I didn’t mention was that the closing worship song had a young woman go up on stage and perform a modern dance to the music. My son said almost no one sang, but everyone just sat in their watching the performance. He was flabbergasted.

    This church is pulling out all the stops to attract members. They now have an “art” ministry; they put up testimonial videos regularly during the service; and now modern dance. They are welcoming and are good at following up.

    I hope for the sake of the Gospel that what I’ve described is the exception and not the rule or even an emerging trend.

  13. em ... again says:

    apart from the obvious, i finished reading and wondered whether or not those poor folk needed the friendship of Dr. Arnold. 🙂
    actually, more churches than we realize have a core of gatekeepers protecting their turf… this one looks like all the rest of the congregation had had enough and drifted elsewhere leaving the perps standing naked for all to see?

  14. Bob Sweat says:


    @#9 Do you get a pen, mug, and cake each time you attend? 🙂

  15. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    I get cake each time because there are always visitors – either tourists or in the winter months, half the church population are snowbirds. 🙂

  16. Duane Arnold says:

    #12 Jean

    I think folk are trying anything that they think might work.

    Might I suggest, the issues here are about love, empathy and relationships. Numerous times on the blog people have written about the “early days” of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. It was not planned and Chuck was not perfect, but there was genuine empathy, love and relationships. The Gospel preached was simple and direct. It wasn’t about judging the person, or the worth of a person, who walked through the doors. We could probably learn a great deal in all of our traditions about what is really important.

  17. EricL says:

    One of the largest churches in my city took on a new pastor from the OC two years ago and has been going through a lot of “updating” of their look, style, and staff. The latest change was a rebranding. They dumped their old name and all of its history and are now “Active Church”. I had to laugh.

    I imagined that they pulled out all the pews and replaced them with treadmills and exercise bikes. “You will not sit while the preaching happens! Everyone must be active!” Maybe they all do jumping jacks or run-in-place during the sermon. No fat people or old folks allowed; everyone must be young and fit. (That last line wasn’t all in jest- all of their old leaders have been purged. I just checked their updated website and there are no middle aged folks left in leadership, let alone any graybeards.) Sad.

  18. Elizabeth says:

    This is so sad to me; and unfortunately my experience as well through the years. We’ve just recently moved to another state, and we’re looking for a new church to attend.

    But I decided to give it another chance. At the first church, no one said a word to me other than the meet or greet time. Even filled out a visitor’s form and handed it to an usher – almost 3 months later have not heard a word.

    The following week, we went to a CC church. I was nervous and not really expecting much. My husband and I were literally shocked to find the saints there welcoming and friendly! We’ve been going back ever since, and to be completely honest, we are still overwhelmed with the love shown to us from the pastor on down. I still don’t know how to process it as it is something that I have never experienced before.

    So wonderful churches are still out there. But I am afraid they are few and far between. I don’t understand why – seems to me we should be the friendliest and loving people out there – we have the best reason (saved by grace) to love others.

    This church from the original post could save themselves a bunch of money, by not “rebranding” the church building, etc; but “rebranding” the people within. Then think of how that money could be used to actually help others? This is so sad on so many levels.

  19. Captain Kevin says:

    Elizabeth: “…we have the best reason (saved by grace) to love others.

    This church from the original post could save themselves a bunch of money, by not “rebranding” the church building, etc; but “rebranding” the people within.”

    Yes…yes…and Amen!!!

  20. Captain Kevin says:

    All the branding, rebranding, cool bands, fog machines, skinny jeans, relevant teaching, technology, church growth systems, ad nauseum may put butts in seats, but without the leading, gifts and fruit of The Holy Spirit, it is all worthless garbage.

  21. Dan from Georgia says:

    Captain Kevin (20)- well said! The whole businesses model that many churches employ is diseased.

  22. Duane Arnold says:


    Agreed. Church needs to be Church.

  23. Jean says:

    Just to add an additional perspective:

    I see a lack of two attributes in some churches, which also comes through in discussion:

    (1) a loss of the sacred; and
    (2) a loss of the fear of the Lord.

    In my opinion, a church cannot create a flourishing fellowship, if the vertical relationship with God is not flourishing.

  24. Duane Arnold says:


    “Loss of the sacred”… Yes. First and foremost, we need a place in our lives and experience for something beyond ourselves…

  25. Eric says:

    Duane, have you shared your experience with anyone from that church? They need to hear it!

  26. Duane Arnold says:

    #25 Eric

    I sent a link to PP… they need to hear from people like you…

  27. filbertz says:

    suggested name “Ichabod Memorial Church”

  28. pstrmike says:

    There Are None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See.

  29. Duane Arnold says:

    #27 and #28

    Now, here are the questions –
    One departed, does (or can) the “glory” return and actually renew a church like this?

    What will relieve the blindness of people who actually believe something about themselves that is patently not true?

    I guess what I’m really asking is what constitutes redemption for for a church like this?

  30. Jean says:


    I was once on a church revitalization committee, which the UMC coined Healthy Church Initiative. It was heavily focused on successful church practices and data. None of it was per se incorrect. But the focus was on issues, such as focus, simplicity, management, hospitality, priorities, etc.

    But, looking back, the one thing missing was contrition and repentance. It is truly a spiritual issue which requires a spiritual renewal. People must humble themselves and return to their first love. Not some of the people, but everyone who wishes to remain. The remnant, whether 2, 10, 30 or 100, must seek first the kingdom of God. Not with consultants and data, but according to the Word. Is there a balm in Gilead? Is there a Physician there?

  31. Duane Arnold says:

    #30 Jean

    Indeed. I’m beginning to think that there needs to be a combination of the “spiritual” and the “practical”. A return to our first love is primary, as is repentance and contrition. On the practical side, I think being in a “silo” has become the norm. We read blogs that agree with our own group’s point of view; we watch news that reinforces our opinion. We are losing the ability to reach beyond our own “sub-group”. I wonder if we actually need to address the issue of welcoming the person who is not like us. It should not revolve around our politics, our personal preferences, or the other things that identify our sub-group. I think our welcome and sense of hospitality (for lack of a better word) must be wholly Christ-centric. Can this be taught? Can this be learned?

  32. Kevin H says:


    I would suggest that the “glory” could return to a church like this and it be “renewed”. It is possible, however, the occurrence of such for the situation that you described, I would think is not common.

    We have talked before on this blog about the overall reduction in church attendance in this country and the number of churches that have shuttered. While far from an expert on the topic, I would presume that a good many of the closed churches had become very insular and lacked any outreach or welcoming of significance to those outside of themselves. Thus, they slowly died off.

    What will it take to relieve the blindness of the people? While I lack the specifics, I would think it would often take an act of God in some manner to relieve us humans of our blindness or stubbornness.

  33. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Your story sounded familiar so I went back and found your article from Sept 12, 2016 where you described a similar situation.
    Now, I think, and I am only guessing but I may the solution to your problem entering new churches… Dockers and a Polo Shirt. The common thread seems to be the suit and the long hair – perhaps you look like the undertaker when you show up for a first meet up. Perhaps you are creeping the people out?
    May I suggest a trip to JC Penney and see if this clears up this situation. 🙂


  34. Duane Arnold says:

    #33 MLD

    Unfortunately, my friend Michael, who attends in jeans gets the same response!

    Actually, there were other people there in suits, and even a couple with long hair… I’ll consider, however, if there is a correlation!

    Seriously, are “greeters” or “ushers” trained in your church these days?

  35. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    You do realize my comment was in jest?

    Here is what we do – but you must remember that the visitor also has a role to play also and many times they don’t do their part.

    We do train our ushers and greeters. We have visitor parking up front and try to get the U & Gs to pay attention as people pull in. We greet and try to direct to the welcome table. However, many visitors are with a member and are ushered in by the member. We have members fill out members cards and ask visitors to fill out the visitor card and welcome all to fill out the prayer cards. As an elder I sit in the back and try to pick out the visitors so at the time of passing the peace I will make my approach to my prey. 😉

    On the other hand, some visitors like to avoid to notoriety, they like to slip in and out as if they are on a secret mission. Our visitor cards ask if they would like to be contacted by someone at the church – by visit, phone or email. Many check No.

    Hey, we do what we can. In a show of great hospitality we do give the vitals – where is the restroom, where is the coffee & donuts (or is it doughnuts?)

  36. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Now I must admit that Lutherans do have a difficult time keeping non Lutheran visitors. What are you going to do when within the first 5 minutes they notice a man in a dress as the leader and then everyone dropping to their knees confessing they are poor miserable sinners asking for forgiveness.

    We are not very ‘seeker friendly’ 😉

  37. Duane Arnold says:

    #32 Kevin

    It seems to be as churches start the decline, they begin to entrench and justify the decline. Act of God is needed, indeed.

    #35 MLD

    What sort of training?

  38. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    “What sort of training?”

    We will take a Saturday morning perhaps 3 or 4 times a year for a couple of hours to train new recruits and refresh the veterans. Most of the training is how to stay alert for the newbie entering the premises – they have this look in their eyes. If we can catch them and get them to the welcome table, half the battle is won.

    We do not provide psychology or combat training.

  39. Duane Arnold says:

    I’d be very interested in what ways any others on this thread use to welcome or incorporate visitors into their church services or Bible studies.

    Conversely, if you do not have a particular method, why or why not?

  40. Jean says:

    In the LCMS, new members take a new member class, which is about 12 weeks, in which the pastor typically uses the Small Catechism to teach the new member basic Christianity according to our confession.

  41. Duane Arnold says:

    #40 Jean

    Is there a process of moving the “visitor” (first coming in the door) to the membership class?
    Also, is that process “lay-driven” or “clergy driven”?

    It seems to me that the critical part, in practical terms, is bridging that gap…

  42. Josh the Baptist says:

    We don’t have much going on in the “welcoming” sense. We are pretty stagnant as afar as visitors / new members go right now.

  43. One thing I started a couple of years ago was offering a 4-week group for newcomers that takes place in my home. We get to know each other, and talk about the core elements of our church purpose statement. I’ve noticed that most people who join this group continue on with our church. It’s a great way for people to check out the lead pastor in his home environment. We do this 2-3 times a year. It’s very casual and relational.

  44. We also offer various points of contact for newcomers. Every Sunday a pastor is available for something we call a guest forum. It’s a seven minute connection where we share a quick overview of the church. Every 4 months we offer something we call Explore. It’s an hour-long after service gathering where all the pastors and elders are introduced. We provide a light snack and child care. Every 6 months we offer a 2 hour class on Sunday afternoon called Partnership Class. It’s part of our membership pathway, but we open up to anyone who would like to learn about the vision, values, structure and statements of the church.

  45. Duane Arnold says:

    #43/44 Pineapple Head

    That’s very helpful. I’d be interested, how do you attract/guide newcomers to the guest forum? Announcement from the pulpit, one on one invitation or…?

  46. We announce it every Sunday. A pastor and an elder are posted to the side of the stage. We do it consistently, so church members/regular attenders know to send others. We get people to check it out about every other week

  47. Duane Arnold says:


    Many thanks, that’s really helpful.

  48. Xenia says:

    At our parish, there is a candle stand* in the small narthex, usually manned by my husband or another gentleman. This is where newcomers can get some help, assuming they speak a language someone at the candle stand understands. (My husband is good for English and Spanish; the other one is good for English, Russian and Greek. Help must be fetched for Arabic and Romanian speakers.)

    After Liturgy there is a potluck in the church hall and this is where people get to know each other. We try to make sure visitors know they are welcome to join us but most of them slip-side away. If one doesn’t come eat with us, it’s hard to make friends with them. They have to make a small effort.

    At every EO parish we have visited, we are always strongly encouraged to join them for the coffee hour/ potluck, even to the point where a lady followed us out to our car at a parish in San Diego, wishing we would please join them for the meal. (We had other plans that day and couldn’t stay.) Often the parish priest will sit with us and chat. This holds true for the Russian, Greek, Serbian and Syrian parishes we have visited.

    Weekly potluck meals or coffee hours are a very good thing.

    * The candle stand is a small counter where people can buy (for a dollar or so) a beeswax taper to light.

  49. Xenia says:

    There have always been a few ladies at my parish who had been very unfriendly towards me, I thought. Then I realized they did not speak a word of English and wanted to avoid a conversation, mostly out of shyness. Lately we’ve begun smiling big smiles at each other and at Pascha, they hugged me with obvious affection. So you never know why a person appears to be unfriendly.

    But friendliness is a side issue for me. That’s not why I go to church.

  50. Duane Arnold says:

    #48 Xenia

    Really interesting, especially in a multi-lingual setting.
    I’ve come to believe through the years that the coffee hour (with the pastor/priest in attendance) is one of the greatest tools for evangelism/church growth!

  51. Xenia says:

    Duane, it might be a hold-over of the NT Agape Meal, which seemed to involve more than the Eucharist.

  52. em ... again says:

    maybe my mind is losing ground, but reading about the lady that followed Xenia out to her car to urge her to stay for the meal… i wish every good church had one or more of those ladies… sweet determination

  53. Steve Wright says:


    Small, typical CC here. No visitor cards, or asking visitors to raise hands etc. I also do not do a receiving line after service. (Part of that is due to our small sanctuary structure and relationship to the location of the doors – not some philosophy of ministry thing)

    During announcements visitors are welcomed and encouraged to come up after service and “introduce yourself to Pastor Steve who would love to meet you”.

    We have two other people (one man, one woman) after service with me up front for people who want to pray (also encouraged from the pulpit by me as I close. Also, we have no “altar call” stuff). This distributes the load off of me, though I often am asked to pray with someone too of course. As an aside, I have noticed that women in the church are usually very deliberate in seeking out the woman prayer leader.

    Sometimes regulars want to chat too about the Bible message and of course I talk to whoever does come up front. However, I am proactive in making sure that if someone I don’t really know is waiting, I cut short the guy who would talk Scripture for the whole 30 minutes between services if I was inclined. I try to have my antenna up for anyone I don’t know and give them priority. Sometimes if someone has a heavy prayer burden that I know will involve much time (because I don’t want to cut that person short) I will ask them to wait a moment while I quickly greet anyone else up there. Then I can focus all my time on that person.

    I have noticed it is more common for people to introduce themselves to me after their 2nd or 3rd service visiting, and not the first one.

    We also have free coffee and donuts and during announcements that too is mentioned and people are encouraged to go there and visit with each other before heading home.

  54. Duane Arnold says:

    #53 Steve Wright

    Again, very helpful. A few questions:

    Is this a typical pattern for most CC congregations?
    Do you employ “greeters” or something like them as people arrive?
    If you were to grow larger, would you keep the same “system” of doing things?

  55. Steve Wright says:

    We have people handing out the bulletins and greeting people as they arrive. We also have a lot of people who try to spot anyone who seems lost (typically with kids) and they will direct them. This is all quite organic I might add, and something that blesses me.

    Also, I should note we have four services (and a small sanctuary). So when I say we are small, I meant at any one service. Combined we are a few hundred each week. Total who consider us home would be a few hundred on top of any one week’s attendance (but there are always absences for work, travel, and frankly lots of folks that are once or twice a month type people)

    The four service thing makes spotting visitors for most people challenging since one never knows if the person is new, or just normally at a different service. And the nature of our city and being a CC etc means we have a lot of people coming and going.

    We also have a lot of people that, for their own reasons, prefer to sit on our patio and listen/watch the service, or sit in our overflow room and watch from there. We have ushers located in those places too.

    So we are trying to initiate more opportunity for fellowship for the entire church at once. Plus, last year we had a “one service Sunday” where we met in our parking lot in folding chairs and then had lunch afterwards. That was pretty cool.

    We were once larger than we are now. And even then the time demand was not over the top for me to meet with anyone who wanted to talk about something, answer any emails, take any phone calls (I readily give out my cell number to people). I think the idea the Sr. Pastor is too busy for such things is a total crock for all but the truly mega of mega churches.

    Of course, I don’t travel, don’t speak at conferences, don’t do a lot of multi-church ministry or service, and believe my first, and highest priority, responsibility is to the flock I pastor, and encouraging them as they too do the work of the ministry.

    As to whether we are “typical” of most CCs, I can’t (and don’t say). I don’t think there is anything “typical” of CCs when it comes to this sort of discussion. We are all independent churches and there are a lot of us.

  56. Steve Wright says:

    Before anyone nitpicks one statement above. I meant my highest priority in terms of pastoral ministry.

    My family is not “ministry”. They are family. (I hate that expression, “Your family is your first ministry”) and is most definitely the most important priority of my life. And there is no question who comes first.

  57. Duane Arnold says:

    #55 Steve Wright

    Again, very helpful. I know that everyone does things in their own way. From the responses and comments on the thread, I’m trying to look for commonalities that work – especially from the visitors’ point of view. I recognize that not all visitors desire “engagement”. On the other hand, those who are actually looking for a church home do tend to desire engagement – greeted at the door and recognized as a visitor, meet the pastor, invited to coffee hour, etc. Even with some of these “points of engagement”, there are additional issues. For instance, owing to the physical structure of most churches, it becomes “Where is coffee hour being held”. It’s daunting for a visitor to enter the maze of hallways and rooms in some churches. I don’t have a lot of answers, but the questions keep on coming…

  58. Xenia says:

    Since most EO parishes don’t have Sunday schools and therefore, no long hallways of classrooms, we typically just have two main rooms: The church, where liturgy is held, and the church hall where we eat. If there’s going to be a kid’s Christmas play, it will most likely be held in the church hall, not the church proper.

  59. Steve Wright says:

    . For instance, owing to the physical structure of most churches, it becomes “Where is coffee hour being held”
    We actually have a separate small building across the parking lot from the sanctuary so when the announcements mention staying for coffee and donuts, we just say “in the building across from the parking lot”

    There is only one, so it makes it easy. I have been in a lot of churches though where it is one massive building with a maze of halls and rooms so the point is noted.

  60. Duane Arnold says:

    Steve Wright

    At the church in the article, I ended up getting lost… twice.

  61. Kevin H says:

    Now just imagine how lost one can get when a fog machine enters the equation:


  62. Duane Arnold says:

    #61 Kevin H

    Funny! By the way, the single largest market share for AV/Lighting/Effects industry has moved from touring and rock venues and is now… churches.

  63. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    I am really old – probably even older than Duane — but not as old as Bob Sweat.;-)
    So tell me, how does a fog machine work in a worship service. Is it like heavy incense?

  64. Duane Arnold says:


    You need it with the praise band to create “atmosphere”. It also helps enhance the light show.

  65. Kevin H says:


    I’ve never been in a service with a fog machine. I can only tell you what I have learned from the Babylon Bee. 😉

  66. Steve Wright says:

    The only experience I have with a fog machine was watching Phantom of the Opera…

    And I must say, they made it work quite well……

  67. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Well in the Lutheran church we are all old (except Jean – he is still a young whippersnapper) but we are all looking through cataracts and glaucoma – so we are actually looking through our own fog machine.

  68. JoelG says:

    “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.

    So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

    Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too.

    This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.”

    –Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

    This is what goes on here at the PP. If the Church could somehow put this into practice in our daily lives I think everyone would feel more welcome.

  69. Duane Arnold says:


    Great quote and I fully agree…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.