What to Expect When You're Expecting (To Visit a Church)

I recently made a long-overdue addition to my job description as a church communications coordinator: visit other churches. Sometimes the best way to understand our own context is to see how things are done in another. Therefore, once a quarter, I visit another church in order to help me assess my own church's guest interactions and encourage new ideas for my church’s setting.

It's important not to approach this task too casually. Rather, my work will benefit most if I keep these visits strategic, consistent, efficient, and fair. For this, I developed my own Church Visit Rubric. Before sharing this rubric, however, it's important that I carefully articulate some of the rationale behind what makes a good church visit rubric.

1. A Rubric Standardizes My Visits.

First, a good rubric standardizes my visits to help me notice and appreciate more. These visits are not about assigning a grade to a church's communication efforts. Rather, standardizing my visits allows me to approach other churches with a consistent methodology so that my own thoughts and opinions don’t interfere with my posture of learning. In other words, the rubric protects me from my two most common feelings when visiting other churches: jealousy or judgment.

2. A Rubric Asks the Right Questions

The questions should be specific enough for concrete feedback, but open enough to notice novel approaches. For example, an early draft of my rubric included the question: "Was I greeted?" I later changed this to: "In what ways was I welcomed?" It's a far less limiting question and allows the possibility that there are different ways of welcoming someone. It's the difference between asking someone "What are 25 ways to design a ladder?" versus "What are 25 ways to reach a high place?" You're going to get a lot more creative answers to the second question.

3. A Rubric Keeps Communication Central

My rubric is not a set of criteria for helping me pick a church to join. If it were, I'd be asking different questions. "What is the church's mission?" is a great question to ask when picking a church. "How is the church's mission articulated?" is a better question for this rubric.

4. A Rubric Puts Me In Their Shoes

The standardization of my questions keeps me from viewing the church solely as a "Church Communications Coordinator". Rather, the rubric should encourage me to see this church as a first-time visitor, as a long-time member, as a youth who has grown up in the church, as a college student exploring their first church away from their parents, as a non-believer who was invited by a friend from work, as a member who grew up in a church but hasn’t attended in many years, etc. The ability to see the church from different angles is an essential aspect of the rubric, and essential to our roles as communicators.

5. A Rubric Can Be Applied to My Own Church

It's easy to get into a "rut" when it comes to our own communication efforts. Institutional inertia leads to the same things happening over and over again. Applying the Church Visit Rubric to our own setting will help us see better what is working and what isn't.

Admittedly, this rationale only goes so far, but it greatly informs how I have developed and utilize my own rubric, which you can find linked in this article. My rubric is categorized into pre-visit, visit, and post-visit, and I've found it incredibly helpful in my growth as a church communicator.

Please take a look, offer a comment, and use and tweak the rubric for your own needs. If you have your own rubric for visiting churches, feel free to share it!

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