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Pastoral Visitation
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By Ed Fargusson
 
“My church members don’t want to be visited.” “People are too busy today to have the pastor come by.” “I am too busy with the other tasks of ministry to do regular visitation in my church.”
 
I have heard many pastors say these or similar statements. When I was pastoring a church, I loved visiting with people but I still found it difficult to do. For me, I hated the process of making appointments, and then yet when I dropped by, some people weren’t at home and/or they seemed uncomfortable with me coming unannounced. 
 
The answer came as I developed a plan, with the help of church members, that grew into workable and effective method to manage regular visitation. The result was that in my last church of 680 members and 323 family units, I was able to visit every family each year and still fit in everything else. Here is how it worked.
 
Set Aside Time
Planning time for visitation in advance became critical. I would look three to six months in advance and dedicate between two and four blocks in each week. That required me to look at other events that were occurring such as vacations, conference meetings, church and school board meetings, and the many other ministry and family activities. The blocks of time were always 3 hours long and were either afternoon (from 1 to 4 p.m.) or evenings (from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.) These time slots allowed for a 45-50 minute visit with a 10-15 minute drive between. I spent from six to 12 hours each week visiting. I found this to be doable even in a busy schedule of other activities.
 
Have a Reason to Visit
I always had an agenda for my visitation. For the first round of visitation, I came to get to know my new members and talk about their vision for the church. Of course I always listened to whatever they had on their hearts. But since this was regular visitation and not due to a crisis or need, I wanted them to know there was a reason I was there. After being in a church for some time, I might say my visits were to talk about a specific project like upcoming evangelism plans or a building program. Every visit had a purpose.
 
Ask for Help
I sought out help from someone who was organized and knew the church members fairly well. In my last church, I had two ladies that set up the visitation for me. Since they knew my available times in advance, they would organize the visitation so I could drive to each home in time and they would call to set up the appointments. They were able to communicate why I was coming and simply ask which time was best for the family.
 
Because I planned in advance, I started having elders, deacons, and deaconesses sign up to go with me for these times of visitation. It was both an opportunity for me to train them in visitation and for them to get to know the church members. The members also saw them as my partners in ministry.
 
Make Forms, Take Notes
Over time, several forms were developed that were useful. Each week I would get forms from my volunteers with my visitation schedule. Each block of visitation was on one form that contained the family name and address, as well as a space for notes. After each visit, but not where I was observed, I would make notes on each visit for future reference. I followed a note taking method my nurse wife taught me based on the acronym SOAP. Subjective: I wrote my feelings about the visit. Objective: What did I observe? Assessment: What did I learn? Plan: What is next?
 
Results
Several things resulted from this plan; some intended and some not. I got to know my church members. My preaching became more relevant to the people who came. I knew what was going on in people’s lives. My church members knew me better. One very important thing that happened that I didn’t intend was that when people would ask, “What does the pastor do?” I had several members who would speak up and say, “Our pastor visits.”
 
Ed Fargusson is assistant to the president for the Northern California Conference