At Maranatha, we are committed to preaching the entire Gospel in everything we do (can I get an Amen). But can I ask you, have you forgotten how offensive the Gospel is? If you have been a Christian for a while (or have grown up in a Christian home), it is easy to forget how offensive and foolish the Gospel is to those who are hearing it for the first time. We don’t offer an “I’m okay, you’re okay” message. We proclaim “I am a broken, prideful sinner rescued by Jesus and unless He saves you, you’ll bust hell wide open” message. We tell them that there is nothing they can do to save themselves. Their only hope is the grace of a God/Man that died a brutal, bloody death and took an eternity in Hell that they deserved. It doesn’t necessarily inspire warm fuzzies the first time you hear it. Paul put it this way:
1 Corinthians 1:18: For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved.
So, we realize that our first-time guests (especially if they are unchurched) are going to face the challenging, offensive call of the Gospel. However, as Danny Franks (the Pastor of Guest Services at J.D. Greear’s church) often says, “The Gospel is offensive, but nothing else should be.” Or in other words, “Seek to create the kind of environment where your guests will say, ‘I don’t necessarily agree with what I heard, but I’ll never forget how graciously I was treated.’”
Pastor J.D. Greear says it this way in his new book, Above All, “I never want to shy away from preaching a single truth from Scripture, but I also do not want to make it difficult for people unfamiliar with Christianity to turn to God. I do not want to make it difficult for guests drawn to our church who have heard God is at work here – but then they get here and parking is horrendous, the kids’ rooms are overcrowded, and the worship area is messy. I don’t want people to turn away from our church because we didn’t think ahead to have enough volunteers to welcome them.”
I am sure that you all agree with them. We want to do all we can to help make it easier for our guests to feel welcome and comfortable so they can focus on hearing the Gospel. Here are some things that we can all do to help make that possible. (Please take the time to read each one – even if you already know it.)
In the Parking Lot:
1. As you arrive on Sunday morning, consider parking as far away as you can from the doors. Leave the closest spaces for our guests and those who for physical reasons need to park closer.
2. As you walk through the parking lot, greet those you don’t know and help those who need a hand. An excellent greeting line is, “I’m not sure if we’ve met yet? My name is …”
3. If you encounter a visitor in the parking lot, offer to help them find where they need to go. Do they need to find childcare areas, coffee, a Sunday school class, or maybe the restroom? You could give them a short tour and invite them to sit with you during worship.
In the Lobby and Hallways:
4. Be on the lookout for new faces (maybe they’re guests or just regular attenders you haven’t met yet). Take the initiative to connect with them. The same line works, “I don’t know if we have met yet, my name is …” Make sure you take a minute to write their name down somewhere for future reference.
5. If you connect with a guest in the lobby or a hallway offer to help them find where they need to go… see #3 above.
6. Be slightly outgoing. The goal is to be friendly, ask a couple of questions, and listen attentively. Don’t talk their ear off and don’t avoid them – aim for a happy medium.
In the Worship Center:
7. When you enter the worship center, look around for faces you don’t know. Take the initiative to go and speak with them. Yep, the line still works, “I’m not sure if we’ve met yet? My name is …”
8. When choosing your seat, move forward and inward. Intentionally leave a few empty rows at the back for guests that arrive late. If you don’t need to get up during the service, move toward the center of your pew and leave seats open on the ends. This will also help those who come late, and it encourages others to sit with you.
9. The 5 -10 minutes before the service starts and after the service end are the most critical time to reach out to guests and make them feel welcome. Think of yourself as the hospitality ambassador for the section you are sitting in. Along with welcoming guests, take the time to introduce them to others seated around them.
10. After the service, intentionally try to reconnect with any guests and thank them for coming and invite them to return. If you can ask them to lunch, it would be fantastic.
Hey, Wait! What about the Stand and Greet Each Other Time?
I’m glad you asked. Thom Rainer did some research on this type of event in churches, and this is what he found and some quotes from those surveyed:
Many guests are introverts. “I would rather have a root canal than be subjected to a stand and greet time.
”Some guests perceive that the members are not sincere during the time of greeting. “In most of the churches, it should be called a stand and fake it time. The members weren’t friendly at all except for ninety seconds.
”Many guests don’t like the lack of hygiene that takes place during this time. “Look, I’m not a germaphobe, but that guy wiped his nose right before he shook my hand.
”Many times, the members only greet other members. “I went to one church where no one spoke to me the entire time of greeting. I could tell they were speaking to people they already knew.”
Both members and guests at some churches perceive the entire exercise is awkward. “Nowhere except churches do we have times that are so awkward and artificial. If members are going to be friendly, they would be friendly at other times as well. They’re not.”
Not only do some guests dread the stand and greet time, so do some members. “I visited the church and went through the ritual of standing and greeting, but many of the members looked just as uncomfortable as I was. We were all doing a required activity that none of us liked.”
And a few other quotes from others writing on the subject:
· What is the point of this? You don’t give me enough time to say anything except good morning and half the people who don’t know me avoid eye contact.
· And now you’ve highlighted the fact that I don’t know a single person here and I feel like even more of an outsider… #thanksfornothing
- Sam Eaton
· If I'd never been to church before, the meet & greet time would push me out rather than draw me in.
· I am an extremely outgoing person; I can start a conversation with almost anyone with no problem. However, even I have days where I struggle to be outgoing enough to greet those around me during an announced greeting time.
- David Fantin
In addition to those concerns, when guests (or regular attendees) come in during the “Stand and Greet” time, it can be very difficult to know which seats are available and where to sit. Remember that one of our primary goals is to make it as comfortable as possible for our guests to hear the Gospel, which may be very uncomfortable for them. We are looking at ways of trying to address these challenges, but still create a very welcoming environment for those that God is bringing to Maranatha.
As we make adjustments and try new things, using the time before and after the service is even more vital for making guests feel welcome. We are looking to increase the number of people who are ministering on the Guest Services Team (if you are interested, let Pastor David know). However, we are also asking you to make a commitment. Will you commit to taking the five minutes before the service starts and the first five minutes after the service ends to connect with our guests and make them feel welcome? Every week try to find at least one person to whom you can honestly say, “I’m not sure if we’ve met yet? My name is …”
A LifeWay Research survey found that while three out of every four churchgoers say they have significant relationships with people at their church, they admit they don’t make an effort with new people. The survey found that only one in every six even tries to connect with new people. Will you commit to helping Maranatha excel in the area of hospitality? We would like to see everyone in our church committed to building new relationships that will build new saints. The Gospel is offensive, but nothing else should be.