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:
- 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.”)
- 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.”)
- 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.”)
- 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.”)
- 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.”)
- Any time something is unclear. Baptism. Communion. Commissioning. The stand up / sit down / stand up / sit down game that is Baptist 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.”)
So what area(s) did I miss? Are there other times when we definitely should address guests? Comment below.