What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-12-19
It’s not often that I get a request to write to a topic, but church member Aurelle Locke has asked that I write about the difference between treating newcomers to church as “visitors” versus treating newcomers as “guests.” In short, a “visitor” tends to be unexpected. Someone shows up during office hours wanting to see me. Our office manager, Sue, walks down the hall, knocks on my door, and says, “Pastor Todd, you have a visitor.” A “guest” is someone you’ve invited, so you’re prepared to welcome them. Nicole and I love to host parties. We have our process of preparation to receive guests down to a science. She cooks. I clean. Cleaning for guests is a spiritual discipline for me. I prepare my heart to receive our guests as I prepare the space.
Here’s the context: Aurelle had noticed that I started doing weekly children’s sermons. At some point before my arrival, the church had stopped including children’s sermons in worship, I was told, because so few children were showing up for Sunday worship. Too often there were no children in worship.
I understand that having a children’s sermon when there are no children in worship calls attention to the fact that we don’t have a critical mass of children in the congregation. There are people in the congregation who remember a time not too long ago when we had many children. I understand that some might feel bad to be reminded of this. But it makes no sense to hide the fact. People are going to notice anyway and wonder what, if anything, we are doing about it. Also, not having a children’s sermon when families with children do show up sends the message that they are “visitors.” We were not expecting them and, therefore, not prepared for them. This is the attitude I call, “You’re welcome if you come (but you probably won’t).”
Instead, we want people–especially newcomers–to feel like “guests.” That is, you are invited, we are expecting you, and we have prepared this experience with you in mind. This is the attitude I call, “We want you here, and we’re serious enough to have prepared for you.”
This attitude change is a key for shifting from a declining congregation to a growing one. It holds not only for children’s sermon but also for every aspect of a church’s life. That’s why, for example, I turn on the entryway lights when I enter the church. For some reason, that doesn’t seem to be the practice here. But think about it, How does that feel when you walk into a building and all the lights are off? If it were my first time in that building, I would assume no one is home.
Another example: make sure there are signs to indicate where in the building the meeting or event is. Better yet, have someone stationed at the door to greet and give people directions.
I’ll never forget the time I led community Bible study. We had triple the normal attendance because we made personal invitations. The newcomers appreciated the Bible study, but they went out of their way to comment on the wonderful, clear signs that told them where to find the Bible study. They got the message: “We want you here, and we’re serious enough to have prepared for you.”
So much of this stuff is not expensive, not difficult, and definitely not rocket science. It’s just a matter of awareness. And awareness is the fundamental spiritual practice. Everything communicates, so everything counts. Are we communicating, “You’re welcome if you come (but you probably won’t)?” How do people in Granby view us, really?
Here’s an example of, “We want you here, and we’re serious enough to have prepared for you”: What if as a requirement to attend a “Thank Goodness it’s Friday” social supper, everyone is expected to bring a guest? And we brought food and beverage enough for everyone? And we made it a special point to focus our attention less on the people we already know and more on the people we have yet to meet? Our church would grow so fast we would have a whole new set of problems. Good problems. Problems like, “How are we going to fit all these kids in our Sunday school classrooms . . . ?”