A visitation program is one way for the leadership of a church to keep in close contact with a growing congregation. A formal visitation program can encompass different target groups and have particular purposes. Groups to be visited can be first-time visitors who live in the community, visitors who are new to the community or new members of the congregation; first-time parents; congregants who have been absent for extended periods; people in the hospital; or any other target group the church leadership feels should be included. The basis for a visitation program can be found in the New Testament book of James, Chapter 1 verse 27, which states, "This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress. . . ."
Have a Plan
Organize a group of people who feel called to be part of a visitation ministry. Such a group can represent diverse interests, from visiting newcomers to visiting the homes of children in the Sunday school. Alternatively, the visitation group can have one focus, for example, hospital visitation. The pastor, or someone designated by the pastor to oversee the program, can organize the visitation program.
Determine the purpose and goals of your program if you have not already done so. The group's purpose might be to encourage others who are going through a difficult time; or it might be for such practical purposes as assisting someone who is sick, or to promote special events at the church.
Decide whether visits will be made by pairs or individuals. If the church places an emphasis on small groups, the visitation group might want to meet on a regular basis for prayer and to get connected before going out to visit.
Create a rotation schedule for visiting. Decide if team members will rotate going on visits weekly or monthly. The schedule will likely be made up either by the group leader or the designated overseer.
Establish a reporting system so that the pastor or overseer will have knowledge of how the group is working and who has been visited. The reporting system can be as simple as having the person doing the visit send an email to the group leader and overseer, or a template can be designed to list such details as the name of the person visited, name of visitor, date and relevant details.
In Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor, Pastor Chuck Warnock gives some good rules for hospital visitation. His rules are summarized here: a) Remember the patient is sick -- therefore, the patient may or may not appreciate jokes. Exercise judgment. b) Don't sit down -- keep your visit short but express your prayerful support. c) Offer to help in real ways -- that is, make sure what you're offering isn't simply what you want to do, but what the patient needs. d) Knock before entering -- this is common courtesy and will avoid possible embarrassment. e) Pray -- prayer should give hope and encouragement to the patient and family members.
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