Let’s start with the basics: we should aim to talk to our guests all the time. When they show up on the weekend, they are our honored guests (that’s why we call ’em guests, and not the V-word).
But there are strategic times during the worship service when we should especially address our guests. When we do so, we serve not only our guests, but our members and regular attendees as well. Addressing guests reminds a growing church that there are newcomers in the midst, and encourages a plateaued or declining church of our evangelistic responsibility.
Keller says it this way in Center Church:
Almost every Christian, if they pay attention, will be able to sense whether a worship experience will be attractive to their non-Christian friends. They may find a particular service wonderfully edifying for them and yet know their nonbelieving neighbors would react negatively, and so they wouldn’t even consider bringing them along. They do not think they will be impressed or interested. Because this is their expectation, they do nothing about it, and a vicious cycle begins. Pastors see only Christians present, so they lack incentive to make their worship comprehensible to outsiders. But since they fail to make the necessary changes to adapt and contextualize, outsiders never come. The pastors continue to respond to the exclusively Christian audience that gathers, and the cycle continues. Therefore, the best way to get Christians to bring non-Chrsitians to a worship service is to worship as if there are dozens of skeptical onlookers. If we worship as if they are there, eventually they will be.
So you should make a plan for talking to guests every single week. Here are six specific times that you can do that:
1. At the beginning of the service. Within the first five minutes someone should deliver a welcome. Most churches do that, but we have to be intentional in recognizing that there are guests present. So welcome them. Let them know you’ve planned the weekend with them in mind, and you’re glad they showed up. (“Some of you may be with us for the very first time. We want you to know that we’re especially glad you’re here. There are a lot of places you could be or other things you could be doing, and we’re grateful that you’ve trusted us with your time.”)
2. During the sermon. Your preaching shouldn’t be exclusively focused on the guests in your midst, neither should it be exclusive to the seasoned saints among you. So every weekend in every sermon, address the common doubts, questions, and “so what?” moments that your guests are certainly having. (“If you consider yourself an agnostic or atheist, skeptic or seeker, this [passage / statement / point] may be confusing or it might make you downright angry. This is a place where you are welcome to ask your questions…I still have lots of them as well…let’s work through this together.”)
3. Prior to communion. Whether your church offers communion weekly or quarterly or anywhere in between, you have a responsibility to “fence the table” appropriately and explain the significance of the event. (“This church offers many things that are wide open to you. But if you’re here today and you’re not yet a believer, the Bible is clear that this one act of worship is not intended for you. As the elements come by, we respectfully ask that you let them pass you, and rather use this time to reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus made for you.”)
4. Before the offering. Nothing riles a newcomer’s fur quite like the money bucket coming around. So give ’em a pass before it’s passed. Let your guests know that the service isn’t about what they should give, but what they can receive. (“If you’re a guest, we don’t want you to feel compelled to give in any way, we’re just glad that you’re here.”)
5. At the end. As you’re dismissing the service, remind guests of an appropriate next step. For your church, that might mean a stop by the Welcome Center or First Time Guest Tent. Whenever we remind guests of that opportunity, we always see an uptick in those that drop by. (“Maybe you saw the First Time Guest Tent when you entered. That’s set up especially for you. We have a gift there for you and would love the opportunity to get to know you.”)
6. Any time something is unclear. Baptism. Communion. Commissioning. The stand up / sit down / stand up / sit down game that is Evangelical Aerobics. No, you don’t have to specifically address those explanations to your guests, but an occasional description of what is coming next will benefit not only first timers, but long-timers. (“This morning we’re sending out one of our families to serve as church planters overseas. Any time we do this, it is our privilege to pray for them as they go out.”)
This post originally appeared on dfranks.com.
Posted on June 24, 2022
Danny Franks is the Pastor of Guest Services at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, and the author of People Are the Mission: How Churches Can Welcome Guests Without Compromising the Gospel. Read more from Danny at www.dfranks.com
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This is an interesting article (6 times talk to your guests; June 24). My wife and I visited another church from our denomination in another city. There was an animated discussion with one of the new pastors of this church. It sounded like he was interested in what we had to say. He also invited us to respond to our experience of coming there, as they were following the model of Thom Rainer’s book “Becoming A Welcoming Church”. I put together a reply based upon specific questions he sent to my e-mail, and added additional information as he requested “even if it might be hard to hear” (it had nothing to do with their church, just some of my personal experiences).
There was no reply.
No “Thank you for coming.”
No “Thank you for your contribution.” (even if he discounted everything I wrote)
I left a personal message on his cell number a month later to confirm he even got my e-mail.
Welcoming Church ideas or not (having never read the book), courtesy is never out of style.
This church’s stated goals are to have increased discipleship and membership before the end of the year.
I hope they’re going in the right direction according to the “Welcoming Church” model.
Henry, far be it from me to add to the pile and fail to reply. 🙂
I’m so sorry that happened. As a church staffer, one of the most frequent complaints I hear from congregants is, “I reached out to ____, and never heard anything back.” Failing to reply to people contributes to a slow erosion of trust. I’ve written on this more extensively on this post: https://dfranks.com/2014/10/08/get-to-inbox-zero-or-get-out-of-the-ministry/
Thanks for reading and responding!
Hello Mr. Franks,
Thank you very much for your reply. It’s a disease even within our own church. It shouts out what kind of culture is tolerated. Your article is very insightful, no matter when it was written. When I saw the number of unread e-mails in the article header, it reminded me of a colleague who had over 6,000 unread messages in her inbox; she wanted to keep up with the happenings of missionaries and friends. 😀
I would suspect that trust is slowly gained, and quickly lost. Digital communication needs to be replaced with more personal communication. Chuck Lawless has written a few articles with this thought in mind at CA. If e-mails are people too, I would suspect church leaders are deluged on a daily basis–and it would be perhaps a better emotional buffer to bring back personal secretaries to handle that deluge, yes?
My seemingly tardy reply stems from an issue that perhaps could be easily remedied with a snippet of code. Even though I include my e-mail address as a required item for a reply, it seems there is no notification sent to my e-mail from Church Answers that you have replied. I doubt that has been your experience as a contributor, but what of respondents?
And so the “no reply” cycle continues…..