What I Learned as a Sunday Sinner

What I Learned as a Sunday Sinner

September 26, 2012 by

About a year and a half ago I made it a habit of visiting different churches as an unknown visitor. I wanted to get ideas, see the different cultures and get a feel of the different people that worship God.

What made it even more interesting was when I stopped wearing “church clothes.” I’d go in with a hoodie or leather jacket, Timberland boots and a book bag that had my Bible and pad to take notes. It was interesting to note how I was treated: Some were nice, some were indifferent and some were, well, less than friendly.

But there was one instance that is forever burned in my mind.

Visitor in the Crowd
I went into a very large, technologically advanced church. It was one of the hottest churches in New York City. I walked in one fall Sunday with my hoodie, leather jacket, jeans, Timberland boots and book bag draped over my left shoulder.

You could hardly “tell” I was a Christian.

When I entered there were six greeters, and I was walking straight towards one of them. She said, “Good morning.” I perked up and thought she was talking to me; alas I was wrong. It was an older gentleman behind me. She went around me to give him a big hug.

I said, “OK. She probably just missed me. No big deal.”

Then I walked towards the sanctuary. There was an usher who was there to guide the people in. She was smiling. I said to myself, “Wow! That’s great. That’s how you make people feel warm. There were three people before me. To the first she smiled and waved them in with her left hand, “Good morning.”

To the second she smiled and waved with her left hand, “Good morning.”

To the third the same thing, “Good morning.”

But its funny when she got to me… she kinda just looked at me. She waved with her left, there was no smile, and she said, “Hello.”

In the Sanctuary
I got inside and the church was beautiful. A lot of people, the choir was practicing and people were talking to each other. Nobody really said anything to me though, but who was I… just a visitor.

It is amazing that we can get caught in up in communication, our story and the story of Christ. But sometimes we can forget the experiences we create with people. My experience as a “Sunday sinner” totally changed the way I interacted with people before and after church services at my own church. I learned to greet everybody and spend time with them even if meant missing important “church stuff.”

Here’s my challenge to you: Become a Sunday sinner. Go to a different church—not as a pastor, deacon, youth leader or anything like that. Go as a stranger. See how you’re treated, then see how you treat people.

I guarantee being a Sunday “sinner” will change your life!

What do you think? Do you see yourself as a Sunday “sinner?”

The book on church visitors: Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time VisitorsMore:

Photo by J. Stephen Conn
Post By:

Michael Holmes

Mike is a blogger and speaker who heads the Simple Strategies for Startups community and is also the author of I Shall Raise Thee Up: Ancient Principles for Lasting Greatness (download four free chapters here). You can also find him on Twitter.
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15 Responses to “What I Learned as a Sunday Sinner”

  • Scott Asai
    September 26, 2012

    The funny thing is we think the speaker, message, etc. are what matters, but its not. What people seek when they attend a church is connections. It happens with every interaction. If you connect with someone at church the chances of you returning skyrocket. You can’t say that about any other aspect in a service.

    • Kevin D. Hendricks
      September 27, 2012

      Yes! That’s exactly what Peter Haas talked about in an interview we did a while back. Friends are what keep people coming back to church.

      • Michael Holmes
        September 27, 2012


        I just read the article…wow! I love the idea of having every small group imaginable “small group guidance counselor”. Relationships are key!

    • Michael Holmes
      September 27, 2012

      So true. I know the speaker , choir, and anything didn’t matter much…I had no one to talk to about it!! :)

      The experience was a real eye opener for me. It made me realize how valuable relationships really are.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post Scott!

  • Davd Heys
    September 26, 2012

    I have been toying with the idea recently of asking a friendly unbelieving family to visit our church as “mystery visitors” to get feedback. This has two benefits: the family get to see what church is like and we get useful feedback. If we’re doing things right, they may want to keep coming!

    • Michael Holmes
      September 27, 2012

      That’s a great idea. They actually do have professional “mystery worshippers.” People who function as secret shoppers to guage a church. I would love to hear how that turns out David

  • Alice
    September 26, 2012

    You’ve made some great points here. I think that members of my church family do a great job of greeting everyone. As a matter of fact, I recently heard my husband inviting someone to visit us at church and he said, “everyone is so friendly. If you’re not greeted with a smile and handshake from 80% of our members, I’ll buy you a steak dinner.”

  • Michael Holmes
    September 27, 2012

    Hey guys I just want to thank you for having me as a guest poster….it was a real blast! :)

  • Bud Brown
    September 29, 2012

    On weekends when I’m not preaching somewhere my wife and I visit different churches. We continue to be amazed at how often the same inexcusable mistakes are made at just about every church we visit! Even those that make a heroic effort in this direction often fall short. It is most noticeable after the services – in churches large and small – when the attendees are quick to strike up conversation with folks they know and largely ignore the folks they don’t.

    Pastors should take the lead on this by circulating in the auditorium before the service to greet folks as they come in. If someone unfamiliar is seated the pastor and assigned “rovers” need simply introduce themselves by name and if it is a very large congregation simply ask, “How long have you been attending?” In this fashion those who have attended for a while without having met the pastor or roving greeter aren’t embarrassed.

    If the guest says “this is my first Sunday” the next question the pastor or rover should ask is, “How can I pray for you?” This shows genuine pastoral care, conveys the notion that the church is there to serve rather than simply looking for fresh blood to help keep the doors open.

    In addition the pastor must continually encourage the congregation to meet folks they’ve not met before, find out their name and family members’ names, and ask for the opportunity to meet for coffee or invite them for a meal. But this represents a sacrifice because the regular attenders’ have to venture into uncomfortable territory (meeting new people) and they have to sacrifice some of their already precious time.

    Finally, until the church understands how God values the visitor who has come to the worship service, they won’t take guest hospitality seriously. If Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman (John 4) mean anything, God is busy drawing people to himself through the public worship of the believers.

    Sorry for rambling on, but this is an important subject that we spend a great deal of time teaching people about in our ministry.

    Thanks for a provocative post

    • Michael Holmes
      October 3, 2012

      Oh no…please don’t apologize. That was not rambling at all. That was very insightful!

      Thank you for commenting!

  • Dan Black
    October 1, 2012

    It sounds like this churches needs some usher training:)

    This is why I try and treat everyone I see at church the same. I even make it a point to focus more on the new person than people I already know. It should be about welcoming new people no matter how they might look or even smell.

    Powerful post Michael!!!

    • Michael Holmes
      October 3, 2012

      Thanks Dan!

      I still suggest it though: go out one day and be a “Sunday Sinner”…OMG it will open your eyes!

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