by Dale Jenkins
Seems like somewhere amongst all this good there ought to be something on “Programs that Don’t Work.” We’ve done the disclaimers: not every program works in every place. Just because a program works at Corinth doesn’t mean it will work in Jerusalem. I mean, remember you had the Grecian widows and the poverty brought on by persecution and the Jewish hierarchy cutting off the social programs from them when they became followers of Christ. In Corinth you would have had more wealth and mostly Gentile Christians (1 Cor. 12:2).
In the Failed Programs Hall of Fame would be many programs geared around visitation. If I had a dollar for every call I’ve gotten from a preacher or elder trying to figure out what to do to pump up, regroup, or start their visitation program again, I’d be able to order a few pizzas.
The church has a mission: “Go into all the world...” “Seek and save the lost.” A “program” or “approach,” a plan seems helpful. Sometimes programs seem to become more important to us than people, and we’d better watch that. Ultimately, if a program does not serve to aid people in their desire and attempts to serve God, then “that” program should probably die a fast death. Sadly, way too many of our programs die slow, painful, guilt-ridden deaths.
The problem with many visitation programs is that they tend to lead to potential gossip as information about wayward members is shared. Another problem often is the list (a mile long) with everyone on it who ever attended your congregation and no longer does. Or a list of shut-ins where all that is asked is handholding. The red tape and paper work is endless and frustrating. People begin to jump ship and are often made to feel guilty for doing so.
We began what we call “No Guilt Visitation” about 10-15 years ago. The program is exceptionally simple. Any record keeping is optional. The purpose is to encourage people who WANT to reach out to guests to visit those who visit us. Jule Miller said they are the “low-hanging fruit.” They came to us so we know they have some interest.
Here’s how it works:
- On Sundays, every effort is made to identify and get the names of guests. We meet them, seek them out, and encourage others to do the same.
- Monday morning, a member takes the names and uses contacts (who they might be friends with, etc.) and other resources (e.g. anywho.com) to find addresses of those who were our guests.
- Another person each week makes homemade banana bread that we put in a nice carrier with a Spring Meadows sticker on it.
- At 6:30 pm, anyone who wants to go meets at the building. From the list, assignments are quickly made, and the visitors are out before 7 pm.
- They are instructed to not go in the house unless the person they are visiting insists.
- They are there for three things: A) To say “thank you for being our guests at Spring Meadows.” B) To leave with them the homemade banana bread and something with more info about the church. C) To give them a chance to ask any questions they might have.
- When they get home, they send a quick email to the elders and ministers giving any info they might have gotten.
The results have been outstanding. And if you can’t come, it’s OK.
Dale Jenkins preaches for the Spring Meadows Church of Christ in Spring Hill, Tennessee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.