No matter how much you love people, eventually the day will come when you literally can’t even. (Do the cool kids still say that?) The weather is too bad, your mood is too off, your life is too stressful, your day is too packed to be able to to joyfully, authentically welcome guests to your church. And in those moments, you have two choices: (a) go with your feelings and let your guests figure things out on their own, or (b) suck it up, Buttercup.
So maybe “suck it up” isn’t the best advice (that’s never stopped me from using it with all of my children). But I do think that there are specific ways we can recapture that loving feeling when we’ve temporarily lost it. Here are my personal go-tos:
It sounds trite, but it’s true. A few moments in prayer can reset my head and heart for the good of our guests. Years ago I served at our first mobile campus. For two and a half years that required waking up before 5 AM to unpack three storage pods and transform a high school into a church. Add to that that my wife was also on staff, so that’s two adults plus three kids under ten that we had to wrangle out of the house way before the sun came up. It was, as you might imagine, miserable.
Every week for 2.5 years, I had one prayer that I prayed: Jesus, make me nice. That was it. Because at dark-thirty there was nothing and no one that I wanted to be nice to. By the time church started and guests showed up, I smelled like a gym sock and had the personality to match. But it was surprising how asking for the power of the Holy Spirit to transform my heart…actually transformed my heart. Prayer’s funny that way.
2. Remember the why.
We talk a lot about the why behind the what: the fact that our tasks should never outpace our touch. I love checklists, but if I show up to church with only a checklist mentality, I’ve failed my guests before I get started. I find it personally helpful to go back to the basics: people are the mission. The gospel is offensive, but nothing else should be. We’re making outsiders insiders. Doing that tends to supersede the grouchiness or disengagement that I feel. Reminding myself that every weekend is someone’s first weekend tends to get me out of my rut and back into the game.
3. Practice the conversation.
Admit it: you talk to yourself. (Or at least that’s what I tell myself when we’re discussing you.) So why not use some of those internal dialogues for the benefit of first-timers to your church? On the ride in, crank up a greeting with an imaginary guest. Welcome them generously. Walk them through a couple of key first steps. Rehearse the answers to questions they may ask. And then look around to make sure no one is watching you at the stoplight. (And yes, I do this. And yes, it feels as weird as you might imagine. But it works.)
If you were leading a small group, doing announcements, or preaching a sermon, you’d likely run through the same paces. Give your guests the gift of your practice.
4. Have an accountability buddy.
I have a friend who has a semi-official competition with his team each week. They keep a running list of new people they met, potential volunteers they invited to serve, and next steps they helped others take. He says that the simple act of knowing they will compare notes after the service actually makes him be more aware of the guests around him. Putting that mechanical system in place paves the way for the organic conversations to happen. For several years, I kept a list of questions in my wallet that served as my benchmarks on Sunday morning. While not as effective as having a friendly competition with others, it still gave me some milestones that I knew I needed to hit (Who did you talk to? Who did you meet? Who did you pray for? Who did you encourage?). Checking in with those questions every week kept them top-of-mind.
5. Just do it.
So we’re back to the “suck it up, Buttercup” advice. In my experience, the first conversation I have on the weekend is always the hardest. After that, it’s usually smooth sailing. But that means I have to have the chutzpah to walk across the room or walk down the sidewalk. It means I have to move slowly through the crowd. It means that I have to put my guests’ comfort ahead of my comfort, their needs ahead of my needs, and their schedule ahead of my schedule.
If people are our mission, what are you personally doing to advance the mission, even when you don’t feel like it?