I recently visited with a young woman that is fairly new to our church. In our conversation, she shared with me some of the fears she had when she first started attending. She told me when she first started attending Sunday School (which took some time) that she would silently pray before class that the teacher would not call on her, for fear she would not know the answer to the question. She thought she was the only one who wouldn't know the answer.
When she attended worship, if she did not know where to locate the sermon text, she wouldn't even try, for fear that someone sitting next to her would see her fumbling through her Bible and pick up on the fact she couldn't find it.
Since that time, this young woman has become a faithful attender of our church. She now loves Sunday School, and helps with our children's ministry. She has read through the entire New Testament, and much of the Old Testament. She has come a long way. But she did share with me one gesture that helped on her journey...
One night while sitting in Sunday evening worship, she didn't know how to find the sermon text. She closed her Bible and set it beside her. Then, one of our ladies sitting next to her, simply opened her Bible to the right location, and handed it to this young woman. The young woman told me that she may have otherwise taken offense to that act, but could not, because it was done in such a sweet spirit, without any judgment. It was a turning point for her.
I say all that to say this... I think sometimes those of us who have been in the Church for a long time, forget what it's like for someone who is new. We have forgotten how scary and intimidating it can be. We are callous, and it shows in our attitude toward guests, and the way we conduct our services.
I'm not talking about being "seeker sensitive" here. (That is to say, gearing the whole service around visitors.) I am a firm believer that corporate worship is primarily for the membership. I'm just talking about basic kindness. Being a good host to guests. Being aware. Trying to empathize a little bit with how they may feel.
How does this play out practically?...
If we care about guests, we'll have signs in our church that point them where to go. Have you ever gone into a big clinic or office building with absolutely no direction of how to find your destination? It is a vulnerable and frustrating feeling.
If we care about our guests, we'll have policies/procedures in place that protect children. Some might say, "Why do we need that? We all know each other!" A guest doesn't know you. A guest wants to know their children are safe and protected.
If we care about our guests, we'll make a deliberate and conscious decision to look for people we don't recognize in the worship service, and then introduce ourselves. Have you ever been a guest in a church where you sit down in a pew, and people walk right by you like your'e a bump on a log? Awkward, isn't it?
Pastors, if we care about our guests, perhaps we'll craft our sermons more carefully. I'm not talking about watering down doctrine, or avoiding Biblical terminology. I'm just talking about speaking in such a way that an average person can understand you. Taking time to explain those Biblical terms. Perhaps giving a little guidance when you announce your sermon text. (i.e. "You will find Judges in the OT, after the book of Joshua and before the book of Ruth.") Perhaps even announcing the page number of the text in the pew Bible.
Little things make a big difference. Little things communicate to a guest, "You are wanted and welcome here." One little thing, one little gesture, one little act of kindness (as noted above) can be a turning point in someone's life and walk with the Lord. Think about it.