ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–For the first time in my adult life, I have had to find a church home. Everywhere else I’ve gone, I went as pastor. But now I look at the church from the pew instead of the pulpit.
On many Sundays, I’ve thought about one particular former church member. He is a vice president for his global company. Only five companies worldwide do what his company does. He talks with major political leaders and meets with the top brass of the Army Corp of Engineers. In his extensive travel, he makes several multi-million dollar deals per year. Yet on Sundays, you might find him cleaning a commode or vacuuming a soiled area of carpeting.
When I suggested we should change our terminology to refer to visitors as guests, he was the first to make those guests feel at home. He regularly left his circle of friends as soon as he spotted a guest he hadn’t met. Introducing himself and anyone who was a member sitting nearby, he would engage the guest in friendly conversation. Those who wondered why his Bible study class was growing when other classes were stagnant simply didn’t watch him make a newcomer feel at ease in the midst of strangers. He made people feel like they were his special guest.
As a guest in some churches, I’ve thought how they would benefit from one man like I described. One Sunday I walked in a church with my wife and three kids and no one even acknowledged our presence. I decided we would have a seat and see how long it would take before someone said hello. No one ever did. The worst part was I was to be the guest preacher that evening. The pastor, whom I had never met, didn’t have anyone looking out for a preacher type. I know I stood out. No one else had on a suit or carried a big preaching Bible.
In other churches we’ve attended, once we found our way inside — with complex church architecture that’s not always easy — we had no idea where to go. No one was even available to direct us. Most churches do a decent job of helping guests on Sunday mornings. However, is anyone thinking about mid-week services? When I had to stop someone to ask for help, I wondered if anyone was expecting a guest at all.
Maybe this is an indicator of one of our bigger problems. Since we have so many plateaued or declining churches, maybe no one expects a guest to come to worship.
My family and I have noticed one other big problem during our church search — finding the bathrooms. I have three kids. Someone always has to go. Please, don’t hide the bathrooms; or, at least provide adequate signs.
Speaking of children, our churches need to do as good of a job spending a little money on background checks on workers as they do of teaching kids about Jesus. How are you going to communicate to me, a first-time guest, that you are protecting my children?
There are more elements to reaching people than just a clearly communicated message and powerful worship music. If a guest comes to our church, we should put our best foot forward to show them the love of Christ. When we do the little things well, we eliminate the distractions Satan can use to nullify our message of hope in the Lord.
Keith Manuel is an evangelism associate on the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s evangelism & church growth team.