We’re looking at principles we apply at our church so that our services reach truly lost, un- or anti-churched people. Today, principle #3: Treat visitors at church like you would visitors who come to your home for dinner.
Your home is for you. It belongs to your family. You have certain ways of conducting yourself with your family, certain rituals and traditions you adhere to, certain things you do together. But when you have first-time visitors to your house for dinner, things change a little.
There are some things that you won’t do because you have guests. Maybe you typically walk around in your underwear. Your family understands this, has never reported you to the police, and loves you anyway. But you won’t walk around in your undies with guests over. Or perhaps you normally listen to country music during dinner, but know your guests don’t appreciate songs about broken hearts, broken pickup trucks, and broken basset hounds. So what will you do? You won’t play it. Or if your plan was to go over your family budget at meal time, but you suddenly discovered new friends would be joining you, you would elect to not talk about your personal finances. Why? You know it would bore, and perhaps even embarrass, them. So when you have visitors over you will change the way you dress, the style of music you listen to, and what you’ll talk or not talk about all in an effort to help your friends feel comfortable.
There would be other things that you would still do, but you’d explain them to your guests to make sure they understood and felt comfortable with what you’re doing. If you always pray before your meal but your guests weren’t Christians, you might say, “Hey, we always pray before we eat. I hope that’s okay.” You’d make sure they understood anything that might be foreign to them so that they don’t feel completely out of place.
At Forefront we know we always have some newcomers on Sunday mornings, so we approach it in exactly that same way. For instance:
- Very early in the service we usually have someone come out and welcome everyone, and that person will usually introduce themselves (“Hey, welcome to Forefront. My name is Chuck…”). Why? Because if you have someone over for dinner, you welcome them when they come in. And if they don’t know your name, you tell them.
- We never start with worship. (Almost every church I visit opens their service with their band leading worship songs – to me this is a major no – no.) Why don’t we start with worship? Because for the new person, worship is weird! A bunch of people standing up and singing, in an auditorium, in the morning? Weird! And if you’re new and not a Christian, you have no idea what to do with yourself. You just feel uncomfortable and out of place. It creates a first impression of, “This is for us. We’re not sure why you’re here. We hope you can follow along. Good luck.”
- Now we do have worship in the service, and communion, and an offering. Why? Because we’re the church and we’re going to be the church, and that’s what churches do. But before we do them, we explain them. Every week we explain them, to help our visitors not feel completely out of place.
- There are also things we won’t talk about. We will talk about the “tough” topics people don’t want to hear (hell, sexual purity, alcohol, homosexuality) because they need to hear about them. But we don’t talk about church finances or take votes on strategic decisions. Why? Because those are family issues, and we have people visiting who are not in our family.
It’s amazing to me how people use common sense when people visit them in their homes, but common sense flies out the window when people visit their churches. Maybe this week take a hard look at what you do on Sunday morning and see if you’re applying this principle.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about another principle which is totally wrapped up in this one. Until then … don’t drink paint.
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