[I wrote the following for our church to help us prepare for welcoming guests who will join us for worship tomorrow. The principles could be helpful for other churches, too.]
Tomorrow, like many churches, we expect more than the usual number of guests to join us for worship. Some of these will have been specifically invited by our members and some will attend for other reasons. Nearly all first-time guests to our worship services feel a little self-conscious. They don’t know all that we know, including simple things like, where they should sit, where the bathrooms are, if their children are welcome in the service and what to expect. You can go a long way to making our guests feel welcome by looking for those you don’t know and taking the initiative to introduce yourself to them and talking to them for a few minutes.
Here are 10 practical suggestions that can help us all show the love of Christ to guests who visit our worship gatherings.
- Pray on Saturday night and Sunday before church for our worship time. Ask the Lord to help those who lead us and to speak through His Word. Pray for yourself—that God will strengthen your faith in Christ and your repentance for sin. Then pray that the Lord will bring guests to join us and ask Him to grant them faith and repentance by speaking to them through His Word.
- If you are able (and I know many are not) park in the least desirable spots, even across the street if you can. This will allow those who are less familiar with us to easily find the best parking places near the building.
- Greet people in the parking lot—those you know and those you don’t know. Let those who have taken the initiative to visit us know that we are glad they are with us. Offer to show them inside and introduce them to others.
- Sit in the least desirable seats, if you can. That usually means near the front, on the sides and in the middle of the sections. Try to leave seats that are easily accessible for those who might arrive late.
- If you see someone who looks like they may not be sure where to go or what to do, go and introduce yourself to them. Ask them to sit with you (if they agree, feel free to take one of the better seats J).
- Silently pray before and during the service for the Lord to manifest His presence among us.
- Worship! Listen when a leader is speaking or reading the Word. Pray along silently when we are being led in prayer. Sing wholeheartedly as to the Lord when we sing. Let those among us who do not know the Lord witness the sincere devotion of those of us who do.
- Plan not to leave at any point during the service (and help your children plan to stay without needing to walk out). Some people must get up and leave during worship due to sickness, pregnancy, caring for children or an emergency. But I suspect most of this kind of movement during our services is really not necessary. Take time to go to the bathroom and get water before the service (and if you have children, help them to do the same) so that you can focus without distraction and not unnecessarily be a distraction during the service.
- After the service look for guests and greet them. Encourage them to go to our welcome center. Offer to show them the way. Tell them you are glad they came. Consider offering them your contact information with an invitation to contact you if they have any needs or questions (especially if they are new in the area). Invite them back.
- Pray. During the invocation (first prayer of the service), pray specifically for the guests among us. If, in speaking with a guest, it is appropriate, ask them how you can pray for them. Write down what they say, and commit to do so. Consider praying briefly (very briefly) for them right there, by asking something like, “Would it be ok if we step aside and I pray briefly for you right now?” If they agree, be specific and brief.
Remember what it was like the first time you attended a worship service at Grace. Did anyone particularly show you kindness and warm hospitality? Imitate them tomorrow. Could someone have done something that would have made you feel more welcome or less awkward? Then do that for someone tomorrow.