02 April 2013

How to welcome guests at church (and enjoy the service more, too)

I appreciate Thom Rainer's blog; it is full of useful articles for ministers and for Christians in general.  I have copied and pasted a good portion of his article Ten Commandments for Guest-Friendly Church Members.  Here are the ten "commandments" (In KJV English for effect).  Note the gentle sarcasm here:
  1. Thou shalt pray for people in the services whom you don’t recognize. They are likely guests who feel uncomfortable and uncertain.
  2. Thou shalt smile. You only have to do so for about an hour. Guests feel welcome when they see smiling people. You can resume your somber expressions when you get home.
  3. Thou shalt not sit on the ends of the rows. Move to the middle so guests don’t have to walk over you. You’ll survive in your new precarious position.
  4. Thou shalt not fill up the back rows first. Move to the front so guests don’t have to walk in front of everyone if they get there late.
  5. Thou shalt have ushers to help seat the guests. Ushers should have clearly-marked badges or shirts so that the guests know who can help them.
  6. Thou shalt offer assistance to guests. If someone looks like they don’t know where to go, then they probably don’t know where to go. Get out of your comfort zone and ask them if you can help.
  7. Thou shalt not gather too long in your holy huddles. Sure, it’s okay to talk to fellow members; but don’t stay there so long that you are not speaking to guests.
  8. Thou shalt offer your seats to guests. I know that this move is a great sacrifice, but that family of four can’t fit in the three vacant seats next to you. Give it a try. You might actually feel good about your efforts.
  9. Thou shalt not save seats. I know you want to have room for all of your friends and family, but do you know how a guest feels when he or she sees the vacant seats next to you occupied by three hymnals, one Bible, two coats, and an umbrella? You might as well put a “Do Not Trespass” sign on the seats.
  10. Thou shalt greet someone you don’t know. Yes, it’s risky. They may actually be members you don’t know. And you may get caught in a 45-second conversation. You’ll be okay; I promise.
 Most of us don't think about things like not sitting on the ends of the rows; we do it everywhere else (except movie theaters, where we like to sit in the middle.  There's probably a lesson there...), so it's done out of habit, "just in case" we have to go to the bathroom or something.  And it's also human nature to sit in the same place, even if you didn't want to sit there the first time (like the front row of a class); you know that next time, most people will sit where they sat last time, until it's a habit and, eventually, "my" seat.

I'd love to see the back rows, not the front rows, empty, with everyone "scooched" toward the middle.  Imagine what the reaction of guests would be!  Our youth group tried this for a while when I was in high school.  A few bad apples had spoiled the YG's reputation in the worship service, so when our youth minister challenged us to essentially "up our game," we answered by filling the second and third rows, leaving the very first row for people to sit in who made decisions at the invitation.  Keep in mind, this was in a church of 1000+ people, so it was a move forward of about 20 rows, and from the far stage left section to the center section.  Wouldn't you know it, our reputation improved because everyone could see us during the service.  And I honest got more out of the music and sermon by being closer to "the action."  I paid more attention, and the singing sounds much better when all the other voices are behind you.

Just something to think about this week.

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