NEEDED: TRAINING FOR CHURCH LEADERSHIP AND STAFF
What does it feel like to go inside a church for the first time, ever? Imagine never really wanting to step inside a church building and then one day, either because a friend or someone you love invites you, something inside you gives in and you go. You find yourself , early Sunday morning, riding or walking to that place for the very first time.
For some folks, there's a curiosity of what they will see. Will this be like the movies so often made that give us a Hollywood version of spending Sunday in church. Will it be quiet or loud? What will this person's first time experience be like? And this is where I'd love to catch your attention and hopefully keep you enough so that you get what I am desperately trying to share.
It's not easy to walk in to a holy building for the first time in one's life. So, I'll make it easy and share some areas that I've experienced and found lacking in many churches. I am not just referring to first time believers, but also seasoned Christians who have moved to a new neighborhood or are visiting family and decide to spend Sunday in church.
1- First, train your parking attendants or parking staff.
There should be a warm, welcoming smile that sees people as hearts and lived in need of God's love. Their responses to even the most ridiculous questions should not be filled with sarcasm and criticism. I thought you wanted visitors to come and stay. Funny, how this whole parking lot scene can turn so many visitors away.
2- Next, let's talk about your Meet and Greet Ministry or Welcome Committee. You want people to be real when they say, "Welcome. We're glad you're here." I often find that people are so busy talking with friends and other church leaders that they don't even notice the visitor walking in. There is no "hello" or hand shake and no direction where they can go. This leads me to the next one.
3- Many churches have this rule where Ushers and trained to seat everyone as close to the front as possible to allow space for late arrivals. While I can understand and even agree with this idea for some places, especially mega churches, it bothers me greatly to see how insensitive church staff, leaders and pastors included here, to visitors. Do you know how that person is feeling?
Do you know what they've gone through this week and those moments actually brought them to agree to go to a church today? Can you imagine the struggle that person has had to just walk in? Do you know what chaos took place at home or on the way to get here and now you want to touch their back and force them to the front where all they are wishing for is a hidden space in the back of the church so they can pour it all out to God?
You don't teach your door staff to guide them by telling them where visitors can sit. And then, when they sit where they feel most comfortable, you ask them to stand up and move to the front because the back is reserved for families with noisy babies. Think of a couple at the brink of divorce. Think of a teenager or young person contemplating suicide. Think for just one moment, someone who walked in at the edge of a breakdown. And you want them to what?....Move to the front? That's not all. Let's talk a little more about your ushers. After all, they represent you, don't they. You, dear Pastor or Leader told them they are the "authority" in the church (or should I call them church bullies) when you're not available.
What about that visitor's card? Really? What for? Are you really going to call this person, email them, keep in contact with them? Or is it a one time deal to count off how many visitors you had?
4- Ushers need to be trained to use wisdom and be discreet in all situations, especially around visitors. They can't whisper about a visitor right next to them and then return to that person's side, act like they haven't just made some of the most insensitive remarks, and expect a happy camper when you try to get them to move. Ushers don't have any business remarking on clothes, makeup, hair, or anything other than making that person feel like, "I am so glad you are here. Man, you are in the right place today. God is really going to do great things today. Let me know if you need anything."
I'd love to hear someone say that one day.
5-Well, if that visitor has been courageous enough to put up with your rude staff, and hasn't allowed the "ghetto" to come out of them and smack someone around, or they haven't just gotten up and left- Congratulations! Hopefully you can get to stay just a little longer.
Let's talk about Worship and Praise. You know there are visitors that come hungry for God's presence. I've seen the worship service (singing) go on for an hour. I'd say if the Lord is ministering, and there's a great atmosphere, it's all good. But, why do we kill it with singing the same song a hundred times? And, what about singing one or two songs and then as the Lord's Spirit begins to touch broken hearts and lives crying out to him, we stop the worship and say, "OK, now it's time to say hello to your neighbor. Get up and greet 5 people around you?" REALLY?
Didn't you just say hello to half the people around you when you walked in and for the half hour you sat around waiting for the service to begin because there weren't enough people to start the service the way you wanted? Can't you wait until the end of the service to greet one another. I mean, you parked in the same parking lot.
And what do you say about this. "Now that you've greeted one another, let's listen to the church announcements." And the list begins. You visitor who had felt God healing their hurts during that last song is now wondering, "Who the heck cares about the Bake Sale next week and that Sister So-and-so leads nursery next Sunday?" Do you really care visitors are interested in knowing that last Sunday you didn't get enough tithes or money for the new sound system? On and on go the announcements and then, "Oh, yes, it's brother Over-There's birthday, let's sing happy birthday."
The time is just being wasted. You stopped the Holy Spirit from being present. You told God to take a seat until you're ready to listen to Him. You made the "time out" sign to the Almighty and said, "I know we just have Sundays to do this outpouring of Your presence, but I really like the sound of my voice and gotta give a shout out to everybody in the city."
I've taken extra long here because I feel it so distasteful and disrespectful to invite someone into your midst and then ignore them or kick them to the curb until you remember, "Oh, yeah, that's right. We have to preach and believe me. God is going to speak to us today. But, first, brothers let me tell you why it's important to give your best offering."
Blah, Blah, Blah for another twenty minutes. You visitor is either going to put up with the show because they're super needy and the Spirit of God is saying, "Wait, don't go. I am here and I will work in your life. Give me a moment." or, you got it, they will say, "I told you this was a waste of time!!" Get up and walk out. Many will never return. Many will leave angry and bitter, and so hurt. They will take their heavy burden, their load, their pain and their problems back home and all because the church has become a "Social Club" and no longer exists as a "Place of Healing and Refuge" for the lost.
6- I will end with this. If you make an altar call, don't force people to go to the front. Don't pray for people and try to push them down to the floor like you have some super power and knocking them down will take away their problems. Don't go to people just to find out what their issues or their sins are so you have a conversation topic at dinner for the night. Be genuine. The devil is ready to destroy anything good that took place in the house of the Lord. Don't be the very person that pushes people out.
Was I harsh and mean? Yes? Good. Now you got 6 quick and easy steps to use for your next meeting. Am I the perfect Christian. Absolutely not. But, I am tired of seeing this done to first time visitors and I have personally gone through many of these issues- even after serving the Lord for some time and going as a visitor to a new church when I've moved to a new neighborhood.
Where is the church, the real body of Christ? I dare, triple dare and challenge you to rise up and stand wherever you are and truly represent with love, God's love.