Ten Commandments for Guest-Friendly Church Members

I travel a lot and spend a lot of time in different churches. I have had a church consulting firm that did “guest” visits as part of our services. Sadly, many times I do not feel welcome as a guest when I visit churches.

The Bible is replete with admonitions of hospitality and servanthood. I just wish our church members understood that the servant-like spirit should also be manifest when we gather to worship. Guests are often uncomfortable, if not intimated, when they visit a church. We are to be gracious and sacrificial servants to them.

In response to this need for more guest-friendly church members, I have devised the ten greatest needs, at least from my perspective. I will reticently call them “commandments” and throw in a little King James English for effect.

  1. Thou shalt pray for people in the services whom you don’t recognize. They are likely guests who feel uncomfortable and uncertain.
  2. Thou shalt smile. You only have to do so for about an hour. Guests feel welcome when they see smiling people. You can resume your somber expressions when you get home.
  3. Thou shalt not sit on the ends of the rows. Move to the middle so guests don’t have to walk over you. You’ll survive in your new precarious position.
  4. Thou shalt not fill up the back rows first. Move to the front so guests don’t have to walk in front of everyone if they get there late.
  5. Thou shalt have ushers to help seat the guests. Ushers should have clearly-marked badges or shirts so that the guests know who can help them.
  6. Thou shalt offer assistance to guests. If someone looks like they don’t know where to go, then they probably don’t know where to go. Get out of your comfort zone and ask them if you can help.
  7. Thou shalt not gather too long in your holy huddles. Sure, it’s okay to talk to fellow members; but don’t stay there so long that you are not speaking to guests.
  8. Thou shalt offer your seats to guests. I know that this move is a great sacrifice, but that family of four can’t fit in the three vacant seats next to you. Give it a try. You might actually feel good about your efforts.
  9. Thou shalt not save seats. I know you want to have room for all of your friends and family, but do you know how a guest feels when he or she sees the vacant seats next to you occupied by three hymnals, one Bible, two coats, and an umbrella? You might as well put a “Do Not Trespass” sign on the seats.
  10. Thou shalt greet someone you don’t know. Yes, it’s risky. They may actually be members you don’t know. And you may get caught in a 45-second conversation. You’ll be okay; I promise.

What do you think of these commandments? What would you add?

Pastor to Pastor is the Saturday blog series at ThomRainer.com. Pastors and staff, if we can help in any way, contact Steve Drake, our director of pastoral relations, at [email protected]. We also welcome contacts from laypersons in churches asking questions about pastors, churches, or the pastor search process.

Posted on March 30, 2013

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Holy cow…the thing where “members” sit on the end of the rows and move their knees to the sides so visitors can “scooch” by them. How selfish and rude can we be?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Yep. We can be.

      • Just to comment, I don’t think the church members are as rude as you make them out to be. There are reasons people set on the end of the rows. For example, when someone is older sometimes they have to get up and use the bathroom 🙂 I personally cannot stand to sit in the middle of anything..I feel closed in. Oh, and another thing, I was a home ec teacher and taught manners. It stated in our text book that if you want to get a good seat…go early. People should not have to move all over the place for you. This came from Miss Manners. But I do know what you are saying about being friendly. My family has never hesitated to move for a guest and never would. But I think that sometimes people come down to hard on the members. JMO for what it is worth.

      • My hubby is a homicide Sgt and always on call. We unfortunately break two of those rules. We sit on last row and ends because if his phone “batphone” as I call it . Then Gotham city is in trouble and he has to leave immediately. So he has to be at the back of the church to leave with the least disruption. At least the phone is on vibrate. But a member absolutely has to go out of their way to make their guests feel at home. If someone came to my house, I wouldn’t expect them to have to sit on the floor, I would be sure the chairs were empty! I have been at churches where I was put on the spit and had to stand up and introduce myself and all that. I simply sat in my chair and stared at everyone like they were crazy. I had been going there for years….. why on earth would I get up?

  • Don Matthews says on

    When the visitor turns on his blinker to turn in the parking lot you have 7 minutes to make a lasting impression. 7 minute Rule!

  • Nothing to add here, I just wanted to tell you I love the gentle sarcasm used in this post. It makes me laugh.

    Have a good day, Dr. Rainer.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Tom –

      Thanks. I do make my “gentle sarcastic” comments to add a bit of humor, not to antagonize. Thanks for recognizing that. Next Monday’s blog is about common unprofessional sounds we make when we speak. Again, you will see the gentle sarcasm.

  • Thou shalt not welcome newcomers publicly from the front and then ask them to stand up so that everyone can applaud them.

  • Good advice both in the post and in the comments.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks Dave. You’ve been a blogger much longer than I have, but I have found that many of my readers are a lot smarter than I am. I am blessed to read their comments and learn from them.

  • In keeping with your reply to Matt’s comment we need to carefully recognize guests in a manner that will not embarrass them. I much prefer to have experienced members who can recognize mostmost regular attendees personally hand a welcome folder to guests as they enter rather than a public recognition during the service.

  • All of these are great. One thing to remember in all of this would be don’t get pushy or over do it. The guests know they are guests, we don’t need to “shofar” their entrance to the whole congregation.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Matt –

      I was at a smaller church a few years ago where each guest was asked to introduce himself or herself. There happened to be a guest sitting next to me when the request was made. He uttered a profanity along with “I ain’t doing this.” He then left.

      • Thom-

        My wife and I visited a very small church this summer, and just before the first song the pastor (from the front) called out to us (in the back) and asked if my wife happened to play piano, as they’d love the accompaniment. When she said no, he just chatted with us a bit instead–all while the rest of the congregation listened in. It was uncomfortable to put it lightly.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Wow. Just wow.

      • We have something in common! I have had that happen, too, but I CAN play the piano. Unfortunately, I only read music. I’ve explained my way out of it sometimes, but I did get stuck having to play a couple of times. Some people don’t take no for an answer. Uncomfortable was an understatement. I can laugh about it now…most of the time.

  • Tony Nunn says on

    You are “right on” Dr. Rainer! Our big churches, especially, need to give this great thought and prayer.
    Each guest is of eternal significance and we need to treat them in that light! Would love to see more “how to’s” on this subject.

  • Similar to no. 2, Thou shalt worship whole-heartedly. I think guests feel welcome when they notice members are well-engaged with what is happening.

  • Danny Gilliam says on

    The parking thing is one of my pet peeves. As the pastor, I believe I should set the example. “Pastor, thou shalt NOT covet a reserved parking place.”

    • Thom Rainer says on

      That’s a good word Danny. Leaders should lead by example.

      • My pastor parks in the grass, two buildings away from the sanctuary, right next to the fire department. He practically parks as far away as you can and still be on the property. He leads by example!

  • There is some sound counsel there!

    I might add: Thou shalt leave the best parking spots for others. Too often the guests end up having to park someone on the far side of the moon because the closer spots are long gone.

    And one more for the digital age: Thou shalt leave thine phone in thine pocket. It always looks bad when you walk into a building and half the people there are staring at their tiny little glowing rectangles.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Both of those are excellent Tim. Last Sunday, I almost got hit by a car where the driver was trying to get a prime parking spot while texting at the same time.

    • Tim, love it, but in defense of the digital age, many of us bring our Bibles to church on those glowing receptacles, so please don’t judge us unless we’re clearly texting or checking Facebook. 😉

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Melody –

        My wife makes certain my iPad goes no further than my Bible app during the worship service : )

  • Steve Drake says on

    Thom, I love these “commandments” and believe (in most cases) the only way we’ll ever see them obeyed is to make them part of the plan of salvation! Yes, I’m being too sarcastic, but I really can’t remember ever hearing the words, “Please, take my seat.” I do believe a church is likely to embrace each of these “commandments” in direct porportion to her movement from being inwardly focussed to outwardly focussed.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      You are so right Steve. It’s really a matter of the heart.

    • Forgive those who unknowingly sit in “your seat.” Please don’t ask them to move…you may see things from a new perspective if you sit somewhere else!

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Yeah! That’s a good one Beth.

      • Oh, the stories I could tell! I am not sure which is worse though –being asked to move or having them practically sit in your lap even though there are 4 empty pews in front and behind you. Totally not exaggerating!

        Now when I was leading assimilation at church, I asked regulars to move around and intentionally sit in areas they normally didn’t. It gave them an opportunity to meet new people. For those who didn’t…well, I just plopped my big fat butt in their seats for a couple of weeks until they moved. Haha! And most thanked me for it eventually and took my lead by moving to another stubborn member’s seat. And our church became friendlier. I know. I’m just mean like that. 😉

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Now that’s funny!

      • Amen!, AMEN!, AMEN!!!!

    • Raphael Okoth says on

      Thou shall intercede according to Colossi ans 1:3,9

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