Sunday, January 12, 2014

Invisible Guests

I sat by myself waiting for the church service to begin. A woman made her way toward me with her family following. 

Nodding toward the space next to me, she asked, “Are you saving that seat for your husband?” 

The sarcastic part of me wanted to quip, “Yes, but it may be awhile!” But since I’m not married, I simply smiled and said, “No.” 

Without another word, she and her family sat down. 

It was my first Sunday in a new city, and I was visiting a church that had been recommended to me. At one point in the service all visitors were asked to stand. At nearly 6 feet tall and wearing a bright turquoise outfit, I was hard to miss. After the benediction, church members gathered to visit while I stood by myself. No one approached me, spoke with me, or acknowledged my existence. I left and went to eat lunch by myself. 

What’s wrong with this picture? Everything. Unfortunately, I’ve had many other opportunities to feel unwelcome, or at the very least, invisible, when visiting churches. Consequently, I make it a point to look for people visiting my church. 

Here’s what I’m learning:

  • Pray for the visitors you hope to meet. 
  • Get to church early. 
  • Be on the lookout. 
  • Some guests may be 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 believe I've had the pleasure of meeting you."
  • If guests are already seated, offer to sit with them. If not, invite them to sit with you. 
  • Consider inviting them to lunch. Leave it open ended: “If you don’t have plans for lunch, we’ll be at Sonny’s BBQ at 12:30.” 
  • If appropriate, get their contact information. 
  • Say, “I’ll look for you next week.” 
  • Think. Once when I was visiting a church I asked a greeter for directions to the restroom. She obliged with no further comment. Tipoff! If someone doesn’t know the way to the restroom, you’ve got a guest on your hands. 
  • Be inclusive. Know when to visit with your friends and when to look for new ones who might be disguised as visitors.
When I moved to a new city, I received a warmer welcome at the local Toastmaster’s Club than I did at most of the churches I visited. Why? I believe it boils down to this: they enthusiastically expect guests to come, and when they do, they know how to make them feel valued. 

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

1 comment:

  1. Kim,
    You make an excellent point. After 14 years of attending the same church, we were now the new faces. I, too, was amazed at how hard it was to find my way around a new church. "Are there any couples' Sunday school classes?" I asked one man. "Ummmmmm. . . .hmmmmm.... I think we have one, but I'm not sure where they meet," he said. I wound up in an old folks class (no offense to you old folks). Believe it or not, I attended for over 3 months before, by persistently asking around, I finally found the "secret" room where a couples' class met. A less persistent visitor would certainly have been discouraged. Currently, I'm making notes of suggestions from a visitor's point of view to present to the church leadership (if I can figure out where THEY meet). This experience has reminded me to look out for visitors and welcome them. Thanks for the double reminder!


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