Some believe pastoral visitation is dead. However, when members describe qualities of the ideal pastor, they typically list visitation as a high priority.
While societal trends may change expectations, most members still welcome a personal visit from their pas tor. When I surveyed my members on their desire for visitation, most indicated their strong preference for visitation only by appointment. Other pastors say that their members have different expectations and want the pastor to "drop in" anytime.
Pastoral visitation is not dead. It may be bungled at best or ignored at worst, but it remains a fine art that brings enormous benefits when practiced rightly. Consider the following suggestions:
View visitation as spiritual work in which you minister to your members and extend Christ's kingdom by inviting others to accept His Lordship. "There are families who will never be reached by the truth of God's Word unless His servants enter their homes, and by earnest ministry, sanctified by the endorsement of the Holy Spirit, break down the barriers. As the people see that these workers are messengers of mercy, the ministers of grace, they are ready to listen to the words spoken by them."*
Announce your intentions. Let your members know the conditions under which you will visit. For ex ample, I informed my members that I would visit either by their invitation or my initiation, but I would not visit without an appointment. I also shared with them that they would receive a pastoral visit when they were hospitalized, but that such a visit might be provided by an elder.
Make visitation a priority. Set aside a specific time each week for visitation. If you fail to prioritize visitation time, other demands will prevent you from acting on your own good intentions. Contact visitors to your church immediately after their attendance. You should also visit members who may be experiencing challenges or crisis situations, those who have initiated contact with radio or television programs, others who are potential members, and your nonattending members.
Do not visit alone. Taking an elder with you has its advantages. It's in accordance with Christ's example of sending out His disciples two by two. It's a good technique for self-preservation: why risk damaging your reputation because of what others might report you said or did when you were in their home alone? It helps train your laity. If a person whom you visit needs to begin Bible studies, you can immediately turn that contact over to the elder who has accompanied you.
Train by association. You will enlarge the vision of your laity leaders by taking them with you in visiting. They will see that this work is important to you, and they will come to believe that they could reproduce your skills because they have observed you doing it rather than telling about it.
Conserve your time by asking some individuals to come to you rather than you traveling to them. Set up appointments at your church for those who can easily commute there for Bible studies or counseling sessions. Bunching your visits in a section of the city or an area of your district also helps.
Make short visits. A visit need not be everlasting in order to have eternal benefit. In the hospital, tell your parishioner that you have stopped by to pray for their need. Encourage them that God cares. Ask if they have a prayer request. Share a Scripture promise and pray for their need. Meet other patients in the same room and include them in prayer.
In evangelistic visits you can usually accomplish more in five or 10 minutes than if you stay an hour. Clearly state the purpose of your visit by giving them a tract or booklet about a topic you have recently preached. Thank them for attending your meetings. Ask an open-ended question regarding their receptiveness to what they are hearing, and request permission to pray a blessing upon their home before you leave.
* Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), pp. 435, 436.