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IFB Church Visitation

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I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, made a public profession of faith at an IFB church at age fifteen, attended an IFB college in the 1970s, married an IFB preacher’s daughter, and pastored several IFB churches. For much of my life, I attended church every time the doors were open. At the height of my involvement with IFB churches, I attended church services and programs a minimum of four days a week. Throw in revivals, youth rallies, and Bible conferences, I spent over 225 days a year at the church building. Factor in studying for sermons and work projects, and I pretty much lived at the church.

For much of my life, I lived and breathed “church.” No, the “church” wasn’t my Lord and Savior; Jesus was. My love for Jesus and his church motivated me to give my life to the work of the ministry. My goal as a pastor was to teach the saints (church members) and evangelize the lost (unsaved). Tuesdays were the night I met with a handful of church members so we could go on “visitation.” This was the night we went two by two (either same sex or married couples) to the homes of people who recently visited the church or had stopped attending services. I believed it was important to contact every first-time visitor as soon as possible, showing them that we “cared.” When people started missing church services, I wanted to make sure someone from the congregation touched base with them. I never wanted someone to leave the church without giving a reason why. If there was a problem, I wanted the opportunity to fix it.

Most church members skipped Tuesday night visitation. The same went for Saturday bus visitation. The people who showed up on Tuesdays were the same people who showed up on Saturdays. Every church has a core group of members who do most of the work. Most congregants were passive church members. One church I pastored reached 200 in attendance. Yet, it was a group of 20 or so people who were the glue that held the church together. Attendance on Sunday evenings dropped to 90, and on Thursdays, less than 50 people showed up for prayer meetings (and at the churches I pastored, we actually PRAYED).

Visitation was a tool I used to entice new people to attend the church and keep sheep from wandering away. Like a door-to-door salesman, my goal was to convert prospective customers (visitors) into product users. My preaching and personality, along with the friendliness of the congregation, were likely the primary selling points. People who loved me and my sermons and felt “loved” tended to join the church. Those who didn’t went elsewhere.

Did your church have a visitation night? Did you go on visitation? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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9 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Joseph Mitchell

    I visited with The Church of God of Prophecy a while. Sometimes when people go through abuse they spend a season trying harder and identifying with and following the perpetrators. It took me a while to get past it and see what was happening. I’m leading into that their culture and set up is identical to what your saying here with the visiting, cell groups, church every other day for hours, etc.

  2. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    At the Southern Baptist church I grew up in, there were different levels of visitation. Pastor and deacons were responsible for the bulk of visitation to prospective members, the sick and elderly, etc. Sunday school teachers were responsible for outreach to those in the classes they taught. I don’t remember if there was a designated visitation night, though there probably was. Personally, I think the more prominent families in the church were the ones who were visited the most. My grandparents were very active in the church, and they received a few visits if someone was sick. A couple of times someone visited my great-grandmother who lived with us and was a “shut-in”. My grandfather took me on visitations a few times when I was a kid, but I found it incredibly boring.

  3. Avatar
    Kevin Morgan

    I once visited my brother’s SBC church and after the service I was asked to sign the guest book. I did but I merely put down my name, not the address because I did not want visitors. I am a very private man (close to a hermit really) and the last thing I wanted was the church busy bodies checking up on me. My brother even mentioned this to someone with the visitation committee, they did’t care. These fools came over anyway and they got an earful! No respect for people’s privacy at all. I wouldn’t dream of visiting someone without calling first even if they were family or a close friend.
    My wife and I attended a church (Lutheran Brethren) where the pastor would drop by weekly, turns out his daughter lived down the street and he would hang out at our place till she got home from work. Geez.
    These days I identify as a deist. Like atheists/agnostics we have no church or visitation committees and I prefer it that way.
    I know this isn’t really an answer to your question Bruce but it does give you an idea of how some of the visited might feel about it!

  4. Avatar
    dale m.

    As a hard core Right-Wing atheist, I have on occasion, taken a girlfriend to church. Usually Christmas eve. I always give to the collection plate because the church worked to put on a pageant …. and those choirs …. just love them! I unashamedly do this because I feel a certain “magic” in there. I suppose it’s the old building like an ancient library or museum. The candlelight only heightens the experience. I get it.

    But the world I’m in now lacks that meditative surrounding. I know. I know. We often get that from Nature but still …..

    • Avatar
      thatotherjean

      Left wing agnostic/atheist (depending on the day): I get it, too. Back when I was trying to convince myself I was an Episcopalian, I loved the whole idea of coming to Christmas Eve/Christmas services. The church was old, and beautifully decorated, the carols were sing-along, and the actual service was something you could immerse yourself in, sort of communing with the hundreds of years of people who have spoken the same words and prayed the same prayers (more or less). It was a kind of magic. That part, that communion with the past, is what I miss. Natural surroundings are fine, but not in the same way.

  5. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Dale and Jean—As someone who grew up Catholic, I have to admit that I have a certain nostalgia for midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Really, there are very few pageants, religious or secular, that can match it, especially in a grand cathedral. (I’ve attended it at the Notre Dame in Paris and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York. I know, the latter isn’t Catholic, but in terms of art, architecture and pageantry, it could just as well be.)

    About visitations: I didn’t realize that church members did them until I became an Evangelical Christian. Honestly, I thought it was kind of creepy, but I didn’t say so: I wanted so much to believe in a “Savior” I could “accept “, and that my deteriorating mental health was a sign that I was being “filled with the Holy Spirit, that I was afraid to voice my misgivings about so much of what church members did.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Best church service we ever attended was a Christmas Eve mass at a Catholic Church down the street from Polly’s parent’s home. Beautiful church/service/homily. Mom wasn’t happy. We refused to go to the service at her IFB church, yet we went to the Catholic church. 🤣We were on our way out of the church by then.

  6. Avatar
    Matilda

    I salute my baptist pastor husband who worked as a teacher and ran a church too. He had a mantra ‘People, our priority.’ He was one of the best managers of his time that I know. He visited his flock regularly and they felt valued. He visited a sick person at home or in hospital as soon as he could. He phoned people to make appointments to visit them after work. When our children were small, he asked if it could be after 7.30pm so he could help get them to bed, so they never felt left out. I feel so sad when, for example, I was in hospital for a serious operation and my vicar (we joined our village anglican church after he retired. We worked hard there and all I got from the vicar were 2 emails. One said ‘RU OK?’ and the other she sent to hubby’s gmail by mistake.) I also learned that an 86yo church member, who never ever missed church since a babe in arms and was central to it too, was in the same hospital and told her son she was upset that the vicar didn’t make the 5mile journey to visit her. People matter…..!

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I regularly visited every family in our church. Like your husband, I believed people were a priority. As co-pastor of a church in Texas, I visited a young church member who just had surgery. His parents were shocked to see me. My fellow pastor didn’t make hospital visits — ever. Granted, I enjoyed visiting people, but I can’t imagine being a pastor and not getting to know your members outside of church.

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Bruce Gerencser