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FIRST-PERSON: Is your church preparing for company?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–I can’t remember when or where I first heard the following suggestion, but I’ve seen similar versions over the years, and it remains one of the best ways to evaluate a church’s ministry to outsiders.

As you think about how your church prepares for Sunday services, you should follow a similar procedure that you typically would in preparing for company coming to your home for dinner. For instance, if you invited someone over, you:

1. personally and warmly invite them, telling them how much you are looking forward to them coming.

2. give them clear directions to your home, possibly providing a map. Of course, MapQuest, the online service has made this easier, but there are still people who prefer getting directions from the host, particularly if it might be hard to spot your house in a large neighborhood. Or perhaps you have a number of people coming to your home, and you need to provide special parking instructions.

3. might check to see if anyone in the family you are inviting has any food allergies. Perhaps one of them is on a low-fat diet or a vegetarian. You want to be certain that you offer a meal that will satisfy everyone you’ve invited.

4. begin to clean, inside and outside your house. You want everything to look as nice as possible. Inside, you vacuum and dust. If small children are invited, you might put breakable items up high and plan to have some toys or games to entertain them. Outside the house, you mow and edge the lawn. You might double-check to be certain your house numbers are easily readable from the street. Some hosts put balloons or similar attention-getting items on their mailboxes.

5. might tell the company ahead of time how to dress for the get-together. You might say that dress is business casual, or if you’re having a summer cookout, you might suggest T-shirts, shorts and tennis shoes. You want everyone to feel comfortable with no surprises.

6. greet them at the door with a warm handshake or hug. You invite them in and show them around the house. You make them feel at home.

7. might plan some activities, in addition to the meal, to “break the ice” and build relationships.

8. walk with them to the door after the meal, and possibly to their cars. You thank them for coming and let them know that you hope to see them again real soon.

Every week you have “company” visiting your church. Do you show them the same courtesies you would if they were visiting your home? Let’s look back at the list and think about what you might be missing at your church when you greet new people for the first time.

1. Each week are you and your church personally and warmly inviting families to worship with you, telling them how much you are looking forward to them coming?

2. Are you giving clear directions to your church, through brochures, ads, answering machine messages and on your church website? Are there special “visitors only” parking spaces near the church in case parking is crowded?

3. If your church has a weekly dinner for visitors or new members, are you sensitive to the needs of those with special diets? Are there simple foods for children to enjoy, too?

4. Is the church well-maintained, inside and out, as people come to visit on Sunday? Are all the lights on the church sign working and is the church name and address clear to see from the street?

5. If you invite people to church, do you tell them how most members dress each Sunday? If Wednesday night or other worship activities are more casual, is that information clearly conveyed, too? Remember, you want everyone to feel comfortable with no surprises.

6. When people arrive, does someone greet them at the door with a warm handshake or hug? Some churches even have greeters in the parking lot to help families with children to gather everything they need. Or, when weather is bad, your greeters could be outside with umbrellas to assist people. Once you invite them in, do you show them around the church? Do they know how to find the nursery, the bathrooms, Sunday School classes? Most importantly, be certain there are no “regular” agenda items to your service that the members have become accustomed to, but that might confuse new worshippers. For example: If you sing the same doxology at each service, don’t stop printing the words, or fail to reference the hymn page number in the bulletin, just because you sing it all the time. Make sure every visitor feels at home with what is happening in your service.

7. During your visitors’ time there, do you offer any activities to build relationships? Is there a time before, during, or after worship to meet and greet everyone?

8. When your church guests leave, does someone walk with them to the door, and possibly to their cars? Do you thank them for coming and let them know that you hope to see them again real soon?

Show your church guests at least the same courtesies you would show to guests in your home. In fact, look for ways to greet church company that go beyond what they might expect. Make worship at your church a uniquely warm experience that “company” will want to enjoy again and again.
Woody Murray is an independent church communications specialist who helps churches more effectively reach their communities. He has worked for 30 years in communications and marketing in advertising agencies and at a major Christian organization. Contact him at [email protected] or at 615-646-5725.

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  • Woody Murray