A View from the Pew: Revisiting Visitation

I came of age in the church in the 1970s and ‘80s when the churches I attended had an organized weekly activity known as “visitation.”

Whether it was the elderly and homebound or prospects who had visited the church or a family in the community a person in the church expressed concern for, members of the church along with paid staff members went out two-by-two to visit in their homes.

I don’t know the time of death of this practice, but I’m guessing it went away sometime in the 1990s. One of the final death rattles of visitation occurred for me when the church I attended made a big deal of a Sunday night church gathering in which we wrote letters of encouragement and prayed for the sick while a group of members went out and visited with people. If memory serves, we did it maybe one other time.

Maybe I’m just being nostalgic, but I think the church’s departure from the practice has left us bereft of meaningful interaction. The hour, maybe two, we spend together on Sundays is not enough to sustain our relationships. It’s no wonder our society and our churches are so fractured. We do not know one another, and we have lost the ability to connect with each other in a meaningful way.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why visitation died. I can still remember how invaded I felt when I first moved to Macon after college to start my first real job. I was visiting a lot of churches and every week I had a steady stream of representatives from those churches come to my door, uninvited and unannounced. Some came bearing fresh baked bread or pies, and others simply left a gospel tract, but many would invite themselves into my tiny studio apartment where I was subjected to a spiritual interrogation.

I didn’t resent the attention. I resented the invasion. I was young and busy, trying to make my mark in my career and establish friendships in a new place. Some of the representatives of the churches seemed genuinely interested in me. Others just wanted to check me off a list.

I came to desire interaction from the church members and church staff of the church I felt most called to join. I welcomed visits from those folks and enjoyed our fellowship. I can’t remember a time I felt invaded or put upon. I think that’s the key.

Does your church still have visitation? If it does, I would encourage you to participate. If it doesn’t, I would encourage you to re-engage the practice but with the following caveats:

  • Call ahead. Only contact people with whom you have established a relationship.
  • Bring a sincere and meaningful gift.
  • Do not have an ulterior motive.
  • Pray before and after each visit.
  • If sharing your faith is an objective of the visit, make that clear before you show up. You will win no converts if you ambush someone.

In 2019, people do not open their door to strangers. So, don’t be a stranger. Be genuinely friendly with everyone you meet and make space in your life to be with people.

And if a visit to their home isn’t practical, you can always invite them for a visit to yours or to a local restaurant. In fact, that’s the most common form the practice of visitation has taken in the modern era, but it is most often only the church staff who do it.

All the social media engagement strategies in the world cannot grow your church or deepen its bonds of fellowship. Spending quality time with people outside of the church building just might.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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  1. Candy Crum says

    Karcie and I still make visits. For visitors to the church, we will either ask and set up a time that week before they leave the church, whether it’s us going to their home, or meeting them for lunch or supper, whatever they are comfortable doing. Or sometimes they will agree to coming to our home. Church members, we will call and set a time as well. For those in the hospital or nursing home, we usually just go by. This has worked very well for us. We also have fellow church members that often take others to lunch after church, especially a widow or widower that is alone.

  2. Lance Wallace says

    Candy, you bring up a really good point about hospital visits, which I didn’t even reference. That’s really good feedback. Thanks for sharing and for reading! Blessings to you and K.C. in your ministry!