In my 40-plus years of ministry, I have always been known as a pastor who visits—a lot. When I assumed the pastorate of a 500-member church, I made it my goal, as far as feasible, to visit every home as soon as possible, so my wife and I covered them all in a year and a half. Doing this endears one to the congregation and results in great blessings and spiritual dividends.
In light of Christ’s example, I can hardly imagine a pastor who does not engage in home visitation. Jesus knew His flock (John 10:27, 28). And more important, they knew Him, which is why they followed Him. Furthermore, He sent His disciples out two by two to visit and minister to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Jesus is our stellar Example of a home visitor.
Various dynamics come into play in pastoral visitation. Should I call before arriving? Sometimes this depends on the people to be visited, whether they are retired or working—or according to their perceived receptivity. There are those few who do not want to be visited, but the important, overall principle is connectivity.
In addition to routine visits, there are crisis visits involving serious illness, death, or some other critical situation. Learning to be sensitive and respectful of people’s time and needs is extremely important. Such learning can often only be gained through experience.
Here are a few practical tips:
- Organize your visits geographically as much as possible. In the United States, always look up a person’s zip code on the US Postal Service’s website. I suggest entering the names and addresses into a spreadsheet and sorting them by the person’s full nine-digit zip code. Using those extra four digits in the zip code places them neatly in geographical order, saving time and gasoline. Using the GPS on my cell phone, I easily move from place to place and cover several visits in an afternoon or evening.
- Keep the address list up-to-date and with you when on visitation to indicate who you visited and when.
- Keep members and interests connected through a monthly newsletter. Include the postal endorsement “Change Service Requested” under the church’s return address. The modest cost of receiving corrected addresses is well worth it.
- Maintain a commercial account with WhitePages.com. I have often discovered missing members through WhitePages.com and find that the small monthly cost is worth it. It could be considered a business expense for your income taxes.
- In your car, carry magazines and pamphlets to share, copies of your most recent church bulletin, and even offering envelopes.
- It is not necessary to visit in a suit and tie. Business casual will make people more at ease.
- Visit people over the phone if they live far away. In most cases, they will appreciate it.
- Solicit the help of your church clerk or secretary to make phone calls where necessary to ascertain updated addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses for each family member.
The blessings and benefits of visitation can include becoming aware of situations that you did not know about or understanding needs or concerns that can be addressed in a sermon (without revealing sources or giving away personal information).
As you visit in your members’ homes, be humble and teachable, listen a lot, and pray earnestly with them, holding hands in a circle if appropriate. A good visit, bathed in prayer and the presence of the Holy Spirit, will warm their hearts and yours and make you friends for time and eternity. Now you will not be preaching to strangers! Visiting will enhance your preaching and give you more credibility in the eyes of your people. Jesus is asking you, “Where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock?” (Jer. 13:20, KJV).