In this series of posts, we will consider the practices of other churches that share some similarities with the OPC, though also some significant differences. With some of the examples (ten in number), we may see some ways in which their practice is inconsistent with our doctrinal commitments, but also hopefully learn from these brothers and sisters in Christ. In particular, we hope to learn more effective ways to welcome new people into the language and culture of our worship, practice, and life as a church.
First Time Visitor Gift: This is very popular in Acts29 and other “missional” churches. I happen to think in the examples I’ve seen it’s very well done. They have a visitor desk and when welcoming visitors (usually at the end of the service, yes they do it twice!) they invite first time visitors to stop by the desk and simply say I’m a first timer. They ask for the visitor card to be given with name and email or phone but vary on how strict they are about requiring that card for the gift. The gift is often something like a $5 Starbucks card. Sometimes it’s a Christian book, but I’ve also seen a couple churches that do the Christian book as the second visit.
Initial Reformed Reaction: Concerns about cost, perhaps. Concerned about what the gift should be—do we want to support Starbucks with church funds?… shouldn’t it always be a book? Maybe Lord’s Day—do we want to give a Starbucks card or similar that they might use that afternoon?
Principle that Transfers: This is a warm welcome to a first timer. Instead of telling them we extend a warm welcome, we buy them a cup of coffee. A $5 gift card for coffee is probably better than a book for a first timer. We shouldn’t have a problem buying them a cup of coffee. Most of us probably give gift cards to our volunteers (SS, etc) and those cases don’t eradicate the possibility of supporting a business or the recipient using it on the Lord’s Day (as many in our churches would). I participated in this as the guest at numerous churches and almost without fail the greeter had a meaningful conversation with me and told me more about the church. This is another benefit—you can send visitors to a table manned by someone who is good at and prepared to meet outsiders. This often helps the visitor not have to stand around and wait for someone to come to them. They can take action and go somewhere and the first people they talk to are “normal” and have good people skills. This idea could be used as a secondary benefit to making more connections. You could give the gift to a local coffee shop, which not only supports somebody local, but also would give you a connection to that coffee shop. This could work at a local Starbucks, but obviously might create more connection at a privately owned local shop. Anecdotally, I know of one OPC church that has done/is doing this. There may be others, but I’ve heard of one.