A Lesson from Mr. Bean – Is Your Church Visitor Friendly?

Okay, I admit it, I’m a big fan of Mr. Bean. One of the things that makes comedy work is when the audience identifies with the situation. One of the Mr. Bean episodes that I really identify with is Mr. Bean Goes To Church. Falling asleep, chewing gum, not knowing when to sit or stand… it is all a “been there, done that” moment for me. If you have never seen it, I am posting it here for your enjoyment.

In spite of all the antics that Mr. Bean brings to the scene, notice that for the most part he just wants to fit in. He is trying hard to follow the lead of those around him, working hard to look like he belongs.

In my previous blog I addressed issues related to hospitality that made me want to return to a church.  I want to go a step further–literally–and step inside the sanctuary. I want to talk about those things I have observed in a worship service that can make church visitor friendly. I realize that this is a bit more sensitive—I understand that different traditions approach worship in different ways—but there is still a lot of common ground that can be addressed.

1) Instructions Please! As a visitor I have noticed many churches assume that visitors may know more than they actually do.  It is confusing, as a visitor, when I am seated next to people who know when to stand, kneel, raise their hands, or shout “amen” with no prompting, but I don’t know. Just like Mr. Bean, when a song is being sung and half the congregation stands and the other half stays seated… I find I am trying to figure out what is the correct protocol.  As a seasoned church visitor, I get it… but to others who don’t have the same background I do, it can be confusing.  A visitor wants to fit in and indeed will feel extra nervous when they are uncertain what to do next.   A brief word of instruction from the worship leader can help to put us at ease.

This is especially important when it comes to communion. Am I  invited to participate if I am not a member of your church? Is it passed to me or do I go to the altar? Do I hold the wafer/cracker to partake as a group or do I eat it immediately? Some simple instructions would alleviate the stress.

2) Prayer Monitor! Prayer is important and hearing you mention pray requests and praying for those people in your church that need prayer is a good thing! However, I have been to a few churches where, based on prayer requests, I felt everybody in the congregation was either sick or dying. When the prayers are all bad news and there is nothing mentioned about good news, or something to praise God for, it can be depressing. This is touchy, I know…but you might want to monitor the requests and strike a balance between good news and bad news. Hearing how God is working positively in a situation, will make me want to return. Hearing the hospital roll call… not so much.

3) Money talk! Another touchy one.  And we all hear the criticisms out there that the “church is only interested in my money.”  I know that is not true.  I have seen the offering presented positively as a part of worship.  And then, just like the “bad news prayer requests,” I have heard offering appeals that make me want to run for the door. Fund raisers know that people respond better to good news than bad.  If all I hear regarding money is how far you are behind in your budget and how much we have to raise to repair the roof, I will probably come away with the dreaded impression that you really are only interested in my money. I have always appreciated the churches that tell visitors to let the offering plate pass them by, that this offering is for our “members only”!

There are other things we could explore, but I am not interested in getting into the “worship wars” over music style and debating the pros and cons of expository preaching. I am interested in seeing the church reach people who need to be connected to the body of Christ. Helping visitors feel at ease in the sanctuary is a good first step!

Do you have any tips or advice to help visitors feel more welcome in church?

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