Do you have any idea what guests think when they visit your church? Outreach Magazine has a great column at the back of every issue called Mystery Visitor: “An unchurched person reports on an unannounced visit to a local church.”
Why would Outreach Magazine do that and why would people want to read it?
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is in John 9. Jesus and the disciples were walking past a man sitting along the roadside. This guy had been blind his whole life. Somehow the disciples were privy to this info and it brought up a theological question that they presented to the Teacher for clarification. They had been taught by the religious leaders that if someone had a physical ailment it was due to evil they had committed. If someone was born that way the belief was that it was the result of either what their parents had done or, believe it or not, what the child had done while still in the womb.
The man born blind wasn’t a theological experiment, but a person. So, Jesus healed him after correcting their misunderstanding about his condition having been the result of an action on the part of any person (though the guy Jesus healed in Chapter 5 had been crippled because of something he had done. John 5:14).
I wonder about the blind man’s thoughts as he listened to the conversation before the healing.
How often had rabbis been past and offered a different answer to the same question for their disciples? They were discussions void of compassion and saturated with condemnation. How many of the passersby had bothered to say a word to the man or offer hope in any form? To the blind man it must have seemed like this interaction would be yet another instance of his unwilling participation in useless religious conversation.
Jesus spit because it was believed that saliva of a great man had healing properties for eyesight. The man heard that sound loud and clear and it gave him a speck of hope. Fortunately, that’s all Jesus needs to work with. The man obeyed Jesus by washing in the Pool of Siloam and he could see for the first time in his existence – both physically and spiritually.
That guy was a Mystery Visitor of sorts. He was among followers of Jesus for the first time and he was paying attention. The disciples didn’t get it right, but Jesus did. He led by example. He did with the blind man’s perspective what he would later do with his sin, he took it on himself so that he could heal him and win him.
For the Mystery Visitor Column, the visitor was asked questions about his experience: What was it like when you entered the building? Was it obvious where the children’s ministry was located and that it was clean, secure and well-staffed? Did you observe anything that would lead you to believe that this church values diversity? How friendly was the church? Would you return to this church?
These things are important to new guests because they show that your church has taken the time to identify with them, that they are more to you than a point of discussion on the topic of the condition of church in America or some other churchy debate.
Jesus answered the theological questions and so should we, but don’t miss out on the human connection in the process.