A couple of months ago, the hubs and I went to Nashville for the weekend, sin the kid. So pumped! All we wanted to do was eat good food and listen to good music - take in the local culture, if you will. The first such dining establishment we went to was a very popular one on a very popular street in the Downtown area. We walked in past the gazillions of people pouring in and out. There were people standing around and walking up and down the stairs that led to two other levels of the restaurant. We looked around for a minute, and spotted the hostess. She asked how many we had, gave us menus, and moved on to the next group. We were so confused and slightly overwhelmed. We looked around waiting to be seated, but then, after a crowd of people moved, we realized we were supposed to order at a certain place, get your drinks somewhere else, and fend for yourself to find a seat.
We walked into this place as excited newbies, but, because of the experience we had in the first few minutes, we became awkward outsiders.
Once we figured it out, we ended up getting great seats by the stage and the food was really good! The point is that we have all been guests somewhere. It's obvious when you're entering into a new place of business, a new community, a new work atmosphere, or a new church if they're "open" or "closed" to newbies, and you'll know in the first few minutes.
I know there are some out there, but most churches really do want to grow in making disciples. Most churches want to spread the name of Jesus, not their own. But, a lot of times churches appear closed to newbies and they don't even realize it. It's completely unintentional, but it's happening.
To alleviate that and become more open to guests, everything should be done with the guest in mind: sinage, access/directions, processes and procedures, announcements, service traditions, Bible translations, why "we" believe what "we" believe, how to get connected, and so on. For example, many churches say The Lord's Prayer at a certain point in the service, or there is a scripture reading, or Communion is taken, etc. These processes and traditions need to be explained to the guests. Not in a long-drawn out way that makes them feel uncomfortable, but in a way that helps them feel accepted, included, and valued corporately, which will help them feel comfortable to enough to connect to serve and get in a small group. For example, churches should have the words to The Lord's Prayer printed in the bulletin and the congregation should be directed to that before it is said or it should be projected on the screen. And, this isn't just for guests. I know regular church-goers who don't know the whole Lord's Prayer - ain't no shame! When you provide Bible's in your service, explain why the translation that is used is used ("...because it's easy to understand and it's a more direct translation"). Also, signage should be visible, accurate, and should not replace people.
To help you "mind the guest" a little better, as you go out to restaurants, tourist sites, grocery stores, retail stores observe how they are considering you as their guest. What are they doing well? What can they improve on? How is what they're doing impacting your experience and desire to return? How can you apply those lessons to your church?
I'd love to hear some of those experiences and considerations in the comments!
Passionate about Jesus and people, I've added this blog to communicate strategy and thoughts about Biblical Hospitality and The Church as a movement, rather than just people in a building once a week. It seems like everyone is blogging these days, (which is awesome!) and I know that there are always better and more insightful thoughts, but God is leading this so I'm just writing in obedience.