RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Sensitivity to cultural issues has become an absolutely essential role in evangelism as it relates to church guests, a seminary professor and co-founder of Ministry Enhancement Group, told worship leaders and pastors during the National Conference for Church Leadership, June 25-29, at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center.
Will McRaney, associate professor of evangelism at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said a lack of guest sensitivity may mean guests will feel out of place and less likely to return. Also, church members will be less inclined to invite friends and new Christians may not understand what is taking place in a worship service.
“New Christians sometimes fake an understanding of what is going on in the service or they may quit coming to church altogether, thinking that they just don’t ‘get it,'” McRaney said.
Welcoming guests without making them feel awkward or embarrassed and explaining insider church language can be sensitive gestures that make people want to return to church, he said.
He listed reasons a church should want to be sensitive to guests:
— We want people to understand our message.
— We want people to experience God and Christian fellowship.
— We want people to return to the church as they seek to find God.
— The Bible speaks of Christians taking care of strangers and not just taking care of themselves.
— The Bible models sensitivity, such as when Paul limited the church’s behaviors.
— Jesus engaged lost people in public settings.
— Jesus modeled teaching from the known to the spiritual.
— It can demonstrate that the church cares, respects, honors and loves seekers.
— It demonstrates that the church planned on lost people being present.
— It makes people feel wanted.
— Lost people do not understand our language and may have no Christian background.
Areas of guest sensitivity may include greeting persons in the parking lot and upon entering the building, as well as providing directional signs, McRaney said. Elements of worship, musical style, service length, attire and announcements all have the potential to be inviting or to help persons decide they will not return.
“Make a decision every time in the interest of the guest,” he suggested. “If you consistently fail to do that, you are giving up the mission of the church. Leaders should keep the church on mission, reaching and discipling lost people.”
McRaney listed suggestions to help churches become guest sensitive:
— Pay attention to local cultural norms and environment.
— Get feedback from guests in the best possible way for your culture.
— Talk with members about why they are or are not inviting guests to church.
— Avoid insider jokes and most insider announcements.
— Tape your service and have key leaders watch it.
— Enlist guests and outsiders to evaluate your service from their perspective.
— Evaluate the words in the messages.
— Make the easy adjustments first.
— Have something in the service that is of value to lost people and new Christians.
— Use the term guest, not visitor.
The pastor-staff leadership department of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention sponsored the National Conference for Church Leadership.