Pastoral Visitation Made Easier

I once saw a cartoon. In the first frame a pastor was visiting with someone in their home but thinking “I really should be working on my sermon.” In the second frame the same pastor was working on his sermon and thinking “I really should be out visiting.”

Is it possible to balance both? Or will visitation always take a back seat to preaching because there isn’t a weekly deadline? (See Inspired Insights below.)

Here are three keys that have helped me in pastoral visitation. Feel free to use or adapt them to your situation.

  1. Don’t do it alone.

I was going to a new district and wanted to get into as many homes as possible. So I blocked off nineteen evenings for visitation in my first two months. I sent the dates to the first elder Rich Cavaness and asked him to work with the other elders to set up a schedule where they would go visiting with me. I would meet the designated elder at the church building at 6:30pm and have them back by 9pm. They could pick who we visited that evening or if they didn’t have anyone I would pick some families from the church directory. When female elders were involved we always worked in a team of three so there would never be a question of healthy relationship boundaries within the church. As we made our visits to families of members and interests my elders and I were bonding because of our on-the-job ministry together. By the end of the two months I knew all of my elders well and many of our members and interests.

One evening while visiting with elders Trudy Dant and Joni Steinberg we stopped by a care home for the elderly owned by some church members. When it was time to go I invited the family to join us for prayer along with several residents in the room.

Joni looked at one of the residents and all of a sudden almost shouted “Is that you Ruth?”

The elderly lady looked up quizzically. “My name is Ruth. Do you know me?”

“Twenty years ago did you live in that apartment complex downtown?” Joni described the apartment complex.

“Yes I did.”

“Ruth, you were the cookie lady!” Ruth smiled and nodded. “You often made cookies for those of us who lived there and you were always so kind. Back then I was far, far from God but you were always so sweet.”

The care home owners said “Ruth is one of our church members but she doesn’t get out much any more.”

I smiled at Ruth and said “All those years ago God worked through your kindness and the kindness of others so that Joni surrendered her life to Jesus and united with His final movement. She is now one of the elders in your church family.”

What an amazing providential reunion! But it never would have happened if I had been making the visits alone.

2. Make it high priority your first 90 days in a district.

It was my first Sabbath in a new district. After potluck I met with the Elders to talk about our mission of reaching the 1.5 million people in the metro area where God had placed us. I told them my first priority was to strengthen the connections within the church family and between each family and the Lord. I told them I would be sending a letter to every household on our church records letting them know they would be contacted by a church leader within the next 90 days to arrange for a simple survey if possible. The letter would state that if they did not hear from a church leader within 90 days they could call the church office and I as pastor would take them out to eat within ten days.

“But pastor, you’ll go broke!” one said jokingly.

“You don’t expect me to pay for all the meals if the church leaders aren’t doing their job, do you?” I teased back.

“Well how are you going to do it?” another asked.

“I’m glad you asked! I want each of you to pick ten families in our church directory to survey. One of the questions on the survey is ‘Are you willing to help with this survey of our church family?’ Pick families who you think will be likely to say ‘yes.'” I had the master church directory and they began a good-natured draft of picking names, bantering for those they thought would be most likely to become involved. “Twice a month we will meet after a potluck to talk about our experiences. Invite everyone you survey who is willing to be involved so they can come, participate in the meeting and pick their ten families.”

At that first meeting there were eight elders. At the next meeting there were about 15 people. By our last meeting of the 90 days we had almost fifty willing people to survey a church of around 400 members. One elder told me “I’ve known Russ for ten years, but after the survey I know him ten times better!” Another elder said “We’ve always been told as elders we should be visiting the members but this survey makes it easy and fun.” Another leader said “I had no idea there were so many members willing to get involved in something like this.”

After the 90 days were over four families called the church office to say they had been missed and they were looking forward to going out to eat with the pastor. I had a good time with each of them. During one of those meals I discovered that Steve Leslie’s wife Karen had never become a Seventh-day Adventist even though she had been attending church for years. Within two months she joined on Profession of Faith and a year or two later became the secretary at the local academy. In visiting over a meal with Chris and Cindy Christensen I discovered their interests and gifts. Within a year she was Head Deaconess and he was leading a small group.

What about visitation after the first 90 days in a district? One evening a week I continued visiting with one of the elders on a rotating basis. We would focus on short visits to new members and new interests. And because the members knew each other much better after the initial survey there was a lot of informal visiting that continued on.

I have found doorstep visits to be very effective in my ministry even while pastoring a 900+ member church. Monday evening I would meet with a team of lay people and give out names of interests and inactive members so they could go two by two to make doorstep visits along with me. If people are regular attenders then I tried to schedule the visits. But if they aren’t, then a doorstep visit oftentimes gave us a chance to connect them stronger with the church. If no one answers the door we just left a simple note saying we’re sorry we missed them with our names and phone number, the date & time and a Bible verse. We also gave spiritual growth packets (See item #2 at this link) to every church family each quarter, delivering packets to the doorsteps of those who didn’t pick up theirs at the church. During COVID a doorstep visit may be the only kind you can make in some situations.

Recently my wife and I made a doorstep visit to somebody who had visited the church we are helping plant two Sabbaths in a row but then didn’t come back for a month. When we got there we were invited in and discovered the crisis they were dealing with. On our way home we both talked about how God had led us there.

3. Remember why you are visiting.

Visitation is not just socializing. It has an eternal purpose. I teach those visiting to pray for the people before going to their house, identify yourself at the door, find a quick way to connect with the person you’re visiting and then include these things…

  1. Listen briefly to their story. Ask questions such as “How has God brought you to this place in your life?” “How did you become a Seventh-day Adventist?” “What is your favorite Bible story, Bible promise and/or Christian song?”
  2. Read a promise from their Bible. Ask “May I read you something from your Bible?” Share a verse or two and some encouraging words about God’s love and care.
  3. Connect them with a group or ministry if they aren’t already. Ask “Have you found a Sabbath School class you enjoy?” “Have you found a ministry you enjoy?”
  4. Pray for their needs, family, friends and neighborhood. Ask “What prayer requests do you have?” “Who are some people you would like to see surrender their lives fully to Jesus?” Then say “Let’s pray for them right now.” Pray a faith-filled, positive, Christ-centered prayer.
  5. Leave a piece of literature with them by their open Bible.

It isn’t necessary to make long visits. Sometimes a doorstep visit is all that is needed. Sometimes you are invited in. But if you need a longer follow up visit you can schedule it right then, at their home or over lunch or during a break at their work.

Someday, at the end of our ministry here on earth, we need to be able to say to our church leaders and members “You know, from the first day that I came to [this district], in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me…; how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house.” Acts 20:18-20

Blessings to you,

Dan Serns

Inspired Insights on Visitation

  1. Hundreds of men and women now idle could do acceptable service. By carrying the truth into the homes of their neighbors and friends, they could do a great work for the Master. God is no respecter of persons. He will use humble, devoted Christians who have the love of the truth in their hearts. Let such ones engage in service for him by doing house-to-house work. Sitting by the fireside, such men—if humble, discreet, and godly—can do more to meet the real needs of families than could a minister.—The Review and Herald, August 26, 1902. {Pastoral Ministry 133.4}
  2. There are those who think it is their duty to preach the truth, but they dare not venture from the shore, and they catch no fish. They will choose to go among the churches, over and over the same ground. They report a good time, a pleasant visit, but we look in vain for the souls that are converted to the truth through their instrumentality. These ministers hug the shore too closely. Let them launch out into the deep, and cast their net where the fish are. There is no lack of work to be done. There could be hundreds employed in the vineyard of the Lord where there is now one.— Evangelism p. 59.3
  3. A minister may enjoy sermonizing; for it is the pleasant part of the work, and is comparatively easy; but no minister should be measured by his ability as a speaker. The harder part comes after he leaves the desk, in watering the seed sown. The interest awakened should be followed up by personal labor,—visiting, holding Bible readings, teaching how to search the Scriptures, praying with families and interested ones, seeking to deepen the impression made upon hearts and consciences.—Testimonies for the Church 5:255. {Pastoral Ministry 133.1}
  4. Let him visit his hearers at their homes, not waiting for invitations, but going as one sent of God. Let him invite himself to the people’s homes, in meekness and humbleness of mind seeking admission, and then present to them a sin-pardoning Saviour. The minister, when visiting at the homes of the people, is not to spend the precious time in mere talk upon common themes of conversation, but he is to watch for an opportunity to introduce them to his best Friend. Too often men and women are indifferent and careless in regard to that which concerns their spiritual interests, but even to this class, a word in season may be as seed dropped into good soil.—The Review and Herald, March 11, 1902. {Pastoral Ministry 132.2}
  5. But there is another point that I had almost forgotten. It is the influence which the preacher should exert in his ministry. His work is not merely to stand in the desk. It is but just begun there. He should enter the different families, and carry Christ there, carry his sermons there, carry them out in his actions and his words. As he visits a family he should inquire into their condition. Is he the shepherd of the flock? The work of a shepherd is not all done in the desk. He should talk with all the members of the flock, with the parents to learn their standing, and with the children to learn theirs. A minister should feed the flock over which God has made him overseer. It would be agreeable to go into the house and study; but if you do this to the neglect of the work which God has commissioned you to perform, you do wrong. Never enter a family without inviting them together, and bowing down and praying with them before you leave. Inquire into the health of their souls. What does a skillful physician do? He inquires into the particulars of the case, then seeks to administer remedies. Just so the physician of the soul should inquire into the spiritual maladies with which the members of his flock are afflicted, then go to work to administer the proper remedies, and ask the Great Physician to come to his aid. Give them the help that they need. Such ministers will receive all that respect and honor which is due them as ministers of Christ. And in doing for others their own souls will be kept alive. They must be drawing strength from God in order to impart strength to those to whom they shall minister.—Testimonies for the Church 2:618. {Pastoral Ministry 230.1}
  6. Those who labor for God have but just begun the work when they have given a discourse in the desk. After this comes the real labor, the visiting from house to house, conversing with members of families, praying with them, and coming close in sympathy to those whom we wish to benefit. It will not detract from the dignity of a minister of Christ to be awake to see and realize the temporal burdens and cares of the families he visits, and to be useful, seeking to relieve them where he can by engaging in physical labor. In this way he can have a power of influence to disarm opposition and break down prejudice, that he would fail to have if he were in every other respect fully efficient as a minister of Christ. {Testimonies, volume 3, page 558.3}


About danserns

Happily married and father of three great kids. Seventh-day Adventist pastor who invites everyone to accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord, embrace all the teachings of the Bible and join a vibrant Adventist group.
This entry was posted in Ministry Models, Pastoring, Time Management, Why Not Try This...? and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Pastoral Visitation Made Easier

  1. Pingback: Starting Well in a New District – Ministry Models | Dan Serns

  2. Some families need a pastoral visit more than the rest of the congregation needs a good sermon. One Friday evening I was called to the home of a family in crisis. I got home after 4am and had to preach the first service at 9am. God got me through it all, but though it was not my best presentation I did not feel I owed the congregation any apologies.

  3. Taylor Hinkle says:

    I love how practical this is! Can’t wait to implement this in our church. Is there any further clarity on how to use the church wide survey form? I notice there are numbers 1-5m is that for different members of the families response?

    • danserns says:

      Great! 1-5 is for members of the family. Each surveyer can adapt it to their style. The purpose is not information gathering but relationship building. Let me know how it goes. 🙏🙏🙏

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