Sunday, November 6, 2011

Are You Saving That Seat? by Kim Jackson

It was my first Sunday in a new city. I arrived early at the church that had been recommended.

Sitting by myself waiting for the service to begin, I noticed a woman and her family coming down my row. She looked at the empty seat next to me and asked “Are you saving that for your husband?”

The sarcastic side of me wanted to quip, “Yes, but it may be a while,” but since I’m not married, I simply smiled and said, “No.”

Without a word, she and her family sat down.

At one point, all visitors were asked to stand. At nearly 6 feet tall and wearing a neon green outfit, I was hard to miss.

After the benediction, friends gathered while I stood by myself. I could have crashed one of their holy huddles, but since I was the guest, I decided to wait for someone to greet me.

It never happened. I left and went home to eat lunch by myself. 

What’s wrong with this picture?

Unfortunately, I’ve had many opportunities to feel unwelcome, or at the very least, invisible, when visiting churches. Consequently, I make it a point to look for visitors in my church.

Here’s what I’m learning:
  • Pray for the visitors you hope to meet.
  • Get to church before the visitors do.
  • Be on the lookout. Some guests are easy to spot. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to the ones who are not.
  • If you don’t know guests from members, say, “I don’t think I’ve met you. Hi, I’m _______.”
  • If guests are already seated, sit with them. If not, invite them to sit with you.
  • Consider saying, “If you don’t have plans for lunch, we’ll be at Sonny’s BBQ at 11:30.”
  • If appropriate, get their contact information.
  • Say, “I’ll look for you next week.”
  • Think. I once asked a greeter for directions to the restroom. She obliged with no further comment. Tipoff: if someone doesn’t know the way to the bathroom, you’ve got a guest on your hands.
  • Don’t be exclusive. Know when to visit with friends and when to look for new ones who might be disguised as guests.
It’s interesting that I received a warmer welcome at the local Toastmaster’s Club than I have at many churches. Why? If I could boil all the reasons down to one, I think it would be this: they enthusiastically expect guests.

Obviously, there’s a lot more at stake when guests walk through the doors of a church. What if in my opening story, I had been someone who woke up Sunday morning after a sin-filled Saturday night, thinking, “I’ve got to get my life together. Maybe I’ll go to that church on the corner….God’s people are rumored to gather there”…?

"So reach out and welcome one another to God's glory. 
Jesus did it; now you do it!"
Romans 15:7, The Message

Recently Kim Jackson has been greeting new friends in Romania through Elder Orphan Care.  Read about Kim on the Lead Writer's page.

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