House Calls – Not Even The Milkman Makes Them!
by Mike Dennis & Ed Long
Interact Magazine 1992
Volume 3 Number 3
‘You don’t mean you still visit people in their homes? You’re kidding! How do you fit in the time? Anyway, people aren’t home much these days are they? Maybe the women are home but what about visiting them on your own?’
Is that your reaction to the idea that pastors should still visit members and contacts in their homes? Are you threatened by the whole concept? Is it really worth the effort? Going cold-turkey can be a big challenge to many pastors. The seeming lack of response by even church members can discourage others.
But allowing for all that, many pastors regularly set aside pockets or slabs of time for visitation and they find it pays real dividends.
Let’s talk about some of the different kinds of calls that can be made. Let’s start with one of the hardest – where the pastor shows up on the doorstep of a new contact. It may be they recently attended a service. Perhaps their child is in Sunday school or a Boys’ or Girls’ Brigade. What do you say?
By the way did you pray before you started out? Usually you have a few seconds between ringing the bell and the door opening. What about a breath of prayer right then? You’d better watch while you pray though. The door might open quickly!
‘Hi, I’m Pastor Joe Longwinded from the Village Baptist Church. You’re Mrs. Blankenship are you? We’re glad you were with us last Sunday.’ Make it sound genuine without going over the moon about it, or make your comment fit the occasion: ‘Your son is in our Boys’ Brigade. We appreciate you trusting us like that. I thought I’d just call around for a few minutes.’ Let him or her respond. Don’t act like a recoded message that can’t be interrupted.
Then ask about previous church affiliation and if they are new in town. Ask about their children. Comment on the garden if they’ve got one. Use your discretion about going into the house if the lad appears along. Never do it if she has only a dressing gown on! Offer to come back.
If it seems possible try and open the conversation with a comment about your church. ‘We’re really having a good time down at our church. We’re just an ordinary group of people. I think you’d make some good friends there.’
Or you could ask a question such as what they think a Christian is. Their answer will give you a clear picture of where they stand try and follow it up if they seem responsive. Invite them to an appropriate meeting. Tell them of someone from your church living near them. You could offer them some attractive literature.
Afterwards, stop for a minute and put down on your index card all the information you’ve gathered. Never do it in from of the house you’ve just visited. Note sown some possible follow up questions, eg ‘What about other members of the family?’ all this will make your second visit much more worthwhile. You’ll be classified as someone with a very good memory – buy it is all on you confidential card system.
First visits as a new pastor
These are some of the easiest you’ll ever make. Take your wife along if she is free, but never take all your six children! Phone ahead of time if you wish. Most folk will appreciate that.
Here are typical questions you can ask:
When did you first come to this church?
Where did you worship previously?
How did you become a Christian?
Have there been any special highlights in your walk with God?
Once again get this kind of information down on your cards at the first opportunity, especially with elderly people. You never know, one of them maybe the first funeral you have in that church and you’ll be very glad for the facts you already know about them.
You might be surprised at a lack a response on spiritual matters, even from long-time members. Stay with the kind of questions mentioned above, especially on the question of their conversion. Be tactful about it of course. Perhaps they can’t converse on spiritual matters because they haven’t grown spiritually. That’s one of the reasons God has placed you at that church – to help them grow.
Next day, phone them and tell them you appreciated the time with them. They’ll appreciate your appreciation. By the way, how much do you use your phone? What about making three phone calls a day that you really don’t have to make? Those calls will keep you in touch with your membership and let them know you are thinking of them. It will help them answer their question: What does the pastor do with his time?
This time the questions will follow up what you heard last time:
Have you any ideas about how our church could become more effective?
What are you using in daily devotions?
Can I pray about any special matters relating to your family?
How is (name each family member)?
When you go home, write down any relevant details so that next visit you will be able to recall any particular matters mentioned previously. Again not down any possible follow-up questions you could use on your next visit.
Visits by request
The pastor should keep announcing to his people that he is available to them should they wish to see him. He can invite them to call him or the church office and arrange a visit. Most pastors do this, but if it is a regular part of your ministry the calls will increase as the time goes by.
Here there is a need that is known – a death, health problem, trauma, heartache, accident, etc. The Pastor goes as soon as he knows of the situation. Your approach will be shaped by each situation.
Finding people not home
That is a problem and you can become tired of leaving your card at the door of an empty house. But interestingly enough, many times the people concerned will be just as pleased that you’ve been when they weren’t there than if they had been home! They know you have been and cared enough to try and reach them at home. Watch what they say the next Sunday or when they phone to explain their absence!
It’s better to try and fail then not to visit them at all.
The value of visitation
1. It demonstrated that you are true shepherd, not merely a preacher. You care about people more than just seeing them as a Sunday audience or a statistic.
2. It tells them you care and are available to them and removes the ‘Ivory Tower’ caricature that often builds up around a pastor.
3. It prevents people from feeling neglected. That is the easiest emotion which can arise in a church and one of the hardest to combat once it has been thought or said.
4. It means they can tell you some of the things own their heart and in their lives. They can do it in a way which would otherwise be impossible.
5. It often catches problems in embryo and allows you to help the situations before the problem grows much larger.
6. It answers the question too often asked silently by our people: ‘What does our Pastor do all week?’
Use school vacations to contact school teachers, adult students and others in similar callings.
In those very rare situations where you intuitively sense there is a moral or ethical danger why not take your wife or a trusted deacon? As an alternative suggestion, ask the person to come to your home or study.
Yes, visitation can be a drag, buy when you touch one member of the family, you may be touching all the others. Yes, you can spend a lot of time leaving you card at empty houses when you could be din your study doing other things. But never forget that the shepherd’s role is to care for and about people. There is no better way to prove you want to be a true shepherd than to know on the doors off your people, to visit business men in their offices, or to drop by the parents who entrust their precious children to your church.
Visitation may be old-fashioned according to some people buy it pays dividends – in your church and eternally. Do it. Do it often, do it regularly, do it prayerfully. It works.
Rev Mike Dennis is the minister of the Thornleigh Baptist Church in N.S.W. and Rev Ed Long is a retired Baptist Minister, but still very active in Christian work.
© Rev Mike Dennis and Rev Ed Long (1 November 1992)