I Really Like Your Whatchamacallit

Silhouette of actors in the spotlight“I really enjoyed your… uh… sho–uh… your… uh”

I’m thinking, “Please don’t say it. Don’t say that other word that starts with an ’s’.”

“I mean, I liked your skit?… is that what you call it?”

Ah, she said it. There it is–the dreaded 4 letter “S” word that is like foul language to us theater types. Yet I understand. I mean, this is church and I think the word “skit” was invented at church youth camp. It is hardly the right word to use for those of us in the world of professional theater, but it’s okay. The church, for the most part, doesn’t quite know what to do with performers the likes of myself.

The next person I encounter struggles for a better whatchamacallit…

“That was a great… uh perfor… uh… presentation.  Is that what you call it?”

Ah, yes! “Presentation” that’s the safe word. I don’t like it, but it is better than “skit,” although I think presentation works better in the corporate training world. However, I find that even I use it when describing what I do. “Presentation” is one word that can mean many different things; it’s generic. A sermon, a concert, a testimony, a drama… all can fall under the banner of “presentation” and be suitable to use in the context of a church service.

The truth is, what I have just done is a performance, usually a drama or storytelling. The common descriptor in the culture would be a one-man-show. Ah… but that creates a problem in the world of the church. The church is not the place for “shows.” And for many this is especially true when it comes to the worship service–the place I do most of my performing. The problem is not with what I do. Once experienced, most agree it is totally appropriate for worship. I describe it to many as a “creative sermon.” The problem is what to call it. The church, especially today has placed a premium on authenticity and anything too polished or too professional that feels like a “performance” is suspect.

I get it. It’s sort of a backlash against the idea that worship is just a “show” a–“performance”–and not authentic on the part of those on the platform. But worship is also a place for those with gifts in the arts to use them, and use them effectively. For us it is our offering. 

So I will continue to struggle to find the right word. I’ll grin and bear it when you refer to my performance as a skit.

And then there are the other related issues:

“That was so moving… I wanted to applaud… but I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate!”

And this favorite from a friend:

“That was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud.”

Performing in the church: a conundrum.

 

Sacred Cymbals

Drums in fireWhen I was a kid I played drums.

Well, actually, a drum would be more accurate.

I signed up for band in school and, much to my parents’ chagrin, chose the drum as my instrument. So I got one of those practice pads—a piece of rubber glued to a piece of wood—and some sticks. It would be a few years before I would get a real drum and then a few more before I would get my first drum set.  I loved my drum. My parents loved my practice pad.

When I was a kid I also went to church…a lot. I was involved in youth group and youth choir, and I was in the church for every service—which back then was a minimum of three times a week—Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night prayer meetings.  I loved my church.

Back in the 1960s music in church was pretty traditional: we had a choir, and a piano and organ accompaniment. On very rare occasions a talented adult or student who played a trumpet, clarinet or flute might be invited to play for “special music,” usually during the offering. Oddly, this invitation was never extended to a drummer. (Although I could play bongo drums at a youth retreat to accompany “Kumbaya My Lord.”)

It was stated unapologetically that drums were not a suitable instrument for church music, and certainly not appropriate for the platform. The platform—that was what non-liturgical churches like mine called the chancel area. While not liturgical, the platform was still considered a “sacred space” and the items on the platform had symbolic significance. There was a communion table, which contained the Welch’s grape juice and saltine crackers on Communion Sunday and a large super-sized Bible on the Sundays when communion was not served. There was a pulpit, where the Word of God would be proclaimed each week, and behind the pulpit was a cross on the center wall. Under that cross was the baptismal (for you non-Baptists, that is a large tub filled with water, big enough for two people.)

There were usually no musical instruments on the platform. The piano and organ flanked each side of the platform and in our church were actually on the floor, not the platform.

I’ll never forget the Sunday night that things changed. I was invited to bring my drum and a cymbal and set it up beside the piano and to play, yes play my drum, to one song. Oh, the thrill I felt. I was going to play my drum in church. It was nothing too jazzy and certainly not rock-n-roll. The song was Onward Christian Soldiers and I would tap out a march to match the military cadence of the song. I felt like the little drummer boy in the Christmas carol: pa rum pum pum pum.

My how times have changed…

Today it is rare to go in to a church and not see a drum set. Even in more liturgical churches. The church has changed, music styles have changed and the platform has changed.

Today the drums in many churches are right in the center of the platform. My theater background has taught me that center stage is the strongest area of the stage. Often the most important moments in a play will take place center stage. Yep, right about where that drum set is located. Of all instruments, drums can be the most difficult to move and reset, so it is not surprising that the drums stay put from week to week. Where it used to be a drummer would cart his drums to church, today the church may actually own the drum set…I am pretty sure this would be considered blasphemy in the church of my youth.

Because drums and drummers can be loud, many churches place the drums in a “drummer’s cage” —it consists of clear Plexiglas walls complete with a roof to muffle the sound of the drums. It is a sort of prison cell for drummers. Drummers have heard it all their lives: “you’re too loud!” The phrase “it is meant to be seen and not heard” was invented for drummers. The drummer’s cage now reinforces that.

Thinking back to the symbolism of the traditional items found on the platform, I can’t help but think there may be symbolism for many in putting the drums in a cage. You have the communion table and the sacraments, the Bible, the pulpit, the baptismal and the cross on the wall.

And under the cross is a cage containing a drum set. With so many symbols of the Christian faith on the platform it is time to complete the picture, to add another cymbal symbol and show the consequence of our sin.

A caged man, a man in bondage surrounded by drums…obviously for many this must symbolize hell.

Praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Psalm 150: 5

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1

Do Not Avoid Eye Contact!

airliner-cramped-0809I‘m a pretty seasoned traveler, and for domestic airline travel I am a big fan of Southwest Airlines…most of the time. Lately it is pretty rare to get on a SWA flight that does not have every seat booked. And like most airlines, they are moving the rows closer together and making the seats smaller. Air travel is a truly uncomfortable experience. For the uninitiated, SWA does not assign seats so it’s first-come first-served when you get on board. There is no “First Class,” however you can earn or pay your way to “A-List” status which allows you to be among the first 60 on the plane and have first choice of the seats. I am one of the “elite” as I fly enough to have earned A-List status and my preference of an aisle seat is always waiting for me. The exit rows (more leg room) and aisle and window seats go first. The last to board get the dreaded middle seat. You always know that the flight will be a full one long before the plane is full because the flight attendants will begin urging the people to fill the middle seats. One of their favorite lines is “do not avoid eye contact.”

Eye contact! It’s not something most of us consciously think about. The boarding process is a great lesson in non-verbal communication—like putting it under a microscope. We are sitting there looking at our books or hand-held devices, or eating our sandwiches. We are sending out all kinds of non-verbal signals that scream, “do NOT sit in this empty seat next to me!” We sprawl over into the middle seat; place our coats on it to make it look like it is already taken. Put in those earphones so we can’t hear the unavoidable question, “is this seat taken?” A few people (not me, of course) have been known to cough and blow their noses loudly to dissuade others from considering the seat. Then the announcement comes, “do not avoid eye contact.”

That’s the game-changer. Now we know someone WILL be sitting in that middle seat. We might have a bit of power however,  because we just might be able to control WHO will sit in that middle seat and occupy our space for the next 2 hours. The implication is that if we make eye contact, the person contacted will assume we want them to sit beside us!

You begin to scan the bodies in the aisle—you want somebody pleasant to sit next to you. It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You don’t want someone too big, too loud, or too perfumed. You want somebody “just right!” You scan bodies avoiding the face until you spy just the right size person then you risk a look up to the face and the chance for eye contact. I typically want a female in that center seat, not for any salacious reasons, but simply put, they tend to not hog the armrest like a man does. I make eye contact, if I like what I see I will add a smile and hope for the best. Sometimes it works. But often I get the big guy whose one leg equals the two of mine. What you have to remember is that this game goes both ways, the person in the aisle is looking for just the right people to be wedged between for the next 2 hours. “Oh that guy has skinny legs, I’ll sit there.”

I pleasantly stand to let him in as I cough and blow my nose loudly.  (You did remember that I am an actor right?)

It is an interesting lesson in human nature. Something we actors are supposed to know something about. We observe people as a way to make ourselves more believable on stage. It occurs to me that something similar to “Do not avoid eye contact” should be happening in our churches every week as well. In some churches I see people giving off similar signals to the people in the pews each week. Many of us have our favorite places to sit, favorite people to talk to and routines that are comfortable. We often don’t stop to think that some of the people who are coming to the church are just like the last to board a SWA flight. They are looking for a place to fit in. We don’t usually want to admit it but we are saying all kinds of things to them without saying a word.

We need to come to church, and indeed to life in general, with our eyes wide open!

Let Go and Let God… or something like that

Man praying in churchIn my last post I talked about Millennials, and the perceptions many of them hold about the church. As a balance it is only fitting that we Boomers take stock in how we communicate our love and concern for the things of God to those we love…our children. As the adage goes, it can be hard to “let go and let God” have control. We often want to “fix it.” It has been a tough lesson for me to learn (still learning) and one that I do address in my own story, Go Ask Your Mother… A Father’s Story.

At a recent performance of my story in Southern California, I was privileged to hear from a parent that was able to come to terms with this very struggle:

“Chuck gave a perfect testimony of what the reality is of parenting and spiritual guidance. I came away realizing my (God-given) responsibility to guide my son needs to be tempered by his own individual walk with Christ, not by my worry to see his bottom firmly seated in a pew each Sunday, or chasing around with a youth group. Neither appeals to him at the moment and I KNOW forcing a teenager to go to church will not bring him closer to God. I also know I don’t want him to be the prodigal son returning after wreaking havoc on himself…so Chuck’s stories sent me home feeling encouraged to give my son some space and just talk with him right now rather than be heavy-handed. I did go home to have a short chat with him about it. He expressed that he does pray, and he likes our church…he doesn’t want to try other churches. So, my husband and I need to pray on it and listen for what the Spirit guides for encouraging growth in the boy. Ooops. Young man.  Chuck’s message was heard at our home and the timing, of course, was PERFECT. If I’m the only parent who came away from that message encouraged and not pushing away one teenage boy…it was worth his travel from Oregon and I thank him.”

As a parent of 3 boys I have lived the story this parent shares x3. As I say repeatedly when I share my story, “these stories aren’t finished yet… there is hope!”

To Millennials Who Don’t Like the Church

Glowing spiral light bulb character and tungsten one handshakingI just finished reading yet another article telling me and my generation of boomers how we have blown it when it comes making the church a place for millennials. According to the articles and books I have read, we are guilty of a multitude of sins. We are: too judgmental, too exclusive, too political, too old-fashioned and in general we are a bunch of haters. We hate sin, we hate sinners, and we hate those who are friends of sinners. We have it all figured out. We know right from wrong and if you disagree with us you are going to hell!

Did I get that about right?

Well, if you are a millennial reading this and you agree with those statements about us, then I want to tell you, I think you’re wrong. You see, most of those statements about the church people I know are not true. Oh sure, there are probably a few like that in every church, but not the vast majority. I spend my life visiting churches, it’s part of my job. Most of the people I encounter are far from the stereotype the media would have us believe. And here is the news flash: the people you are describing are your parents. I am the father of 3 millennials and I would be devastated if I felt my kids believed all those things about me.

As a parent I struggle, along with many in the church, to understand why so many of our children have abandoned the church. I don’t have the answers, but I can tell you if it is for the reasons stated above, for the most part I think you have it wrong. Let me address some of those points.

• Too Judgmental: While it is true that we grew up in a culture and in a time that had “all the answers,” we also live in the culture of today. Unless we have our head in the sand, we are aware of what is happening in the world around us. While we may have some strong opinions about right and wrong, we struggle along with everyone else to reconcile our our faith with the world in which we live. Some of us have faced the challenges and even changed our minds about previous assumptions. And most of the time when we listen to sermons, we are apt to be thinking about our own “log in the eye” and not about you. I don’t think many of us come to church to sit in judgment of the millennials outside the church.

• Too Exclusive: Obviously we are a body of believers united by our faith. But to set us up as a group of people who want nothing to do with people who are different from us is inaccurate and unfair. Most church people I know are concerned about others both inside the church as well as outside. I work for a charity that helps feed and care for the poor around the world. The people funding this work are church people. It’s church people that often offer free clinics, soup kitchens, and drives for school supplies for those who can’t afford them. And when it comes to politics, we are all over the board.

• A Bunch of Haters: Sure there are the few in our midst that would fall into that category, but they are a minority. A minority that is constantly reinforced in the media to make the rest of us look bad. The church at large is not Westboro Baptist Church–far from it. When you categorize us as haters, remember that millennials are our children! We don’t hate our children. Yes, we may have some strong ideas about sin and what needs to be done about our sin. But believing there is a right and wrong on a particular issue is not the same as hate. My experience is that most church people and church leaders are open to conversation about some of the things you think we hate. We may be on different sides of a cultural issue, but we don’t hate you because of it.

Most Christ followers I know are struggling just like everyone else to make their lives mean something in this world we live in. The church continues to be a place of community for us. It has it’s flaws, to be sure, for we are made up of humans who are flawed. As one pastor pointed out to me, the church the only institution that mattered to Christ. It is, or should be an institution of people known for their love, not their hate. I invite you to visit us with an open mind, talk to us. You might just be surprised at what you find.

The Muffin Man

muffin-man-bigOh, do you know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Oh, do you know the muffin man,
That lives on Drury Lane?

Yesterday I met The Muffin Man.

His name is George.

George is 75 years old. He describes himself as “a bald man with big ears.”

George is a greeter at his church. I know because I am greeted by George when I arrive early for my performance.

I have been “greeted” by many church greeters in a lot of different churches over the years, but rarely one as memorable is George.

George really loves people. Being a greeter is not just a duty that he does every Sunday. It is almost as if he lives for it. And the people he greets seem to need George.

Between hugs of the people entering the church, George engages me in conversation. He is intrigued with the pictures of kids I am placing on the table for sponsorship with World Vision.

“Oh, I am so glad you are doing that!” he says. “I sponsor kids too! Everybody needs to do that!”

George is not a wealthy man. However, he is one of the few people actually wearing a suit.

“This suit is 10 years old. I only wear it on Sunday. My momma would thump me on the nose and instill in me that you wear your best clothes when you go to church… so I always have.”

George then turns away for a moment to give a big bear hug to a person I am certain is homeless…or at least dresses the part. I know in an instant that while he is wearing a suit, he couldn’t care less what the others attending the church are wearing.

George turns back to me and says, “So tell me about yourself.” He isn’t just making conversation, he really wants to know. So I tell him a little about me. He listens.

He tells me a bit more about himself. He is a widower for 15 years now. He loves Jesus. He says, “I don’t have a lot of money, but I am rich.”

George doesn’t go to Sunday School like the rest of the people arriving early. He says he needs to be here to greet people when they arrive. “On the rare occasions that I do go, I go to the children’s Sunday School. I hand out gold coins.” He jingles the coins in his pocket and pulls out a $1 gold coin and gives it to me. This is not a wealthy church, and George delights in small acts of charity.

“They used to call me ‘The Muffin Man.’ I used to make dozens of muffins every week and give them away.  I had to stop; I couldn’t afford to do it anymore. I added it up and realized I had spent over $6,000 making muffins to give away to people.”

So now he gives away $1 gold coins. It’s more economical for him.

“Every day I get up and tell God, ‘I’m here for you. Use me. Put people in my path you want me to help.’ And He does.”

George then tells me a story from the other day when he went for a walk and engaged a stranger in conversation on a park bench. They shared stories and he ended up giving the person money that turned out to be the exact amount they needed to meet an immediate need. (He is quick to point out that he is not sharing this to boast, he just wants to show me how he believes God guides his path.) Oh did I mention—George is not a wealthy man?

People often ask me about how I get “fed” spiritually. I am out performing most weekends. I don’t get to attend church in the way that most church-going people do. But sometimes I get to experience a sermon in a unique way. Meeting George I am reminded of this quote from St. Francis of Assisi:

“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”

George is my sermon this Sunday. As I leave the church I find myself humming a tune, not a worship tune but a nursery rhyme:

Oh, yes, I know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Oh, yes, I know the muffin man,
That lives on Drury Lane.

For some reason it feels right. It almost feels like I met Jesus this morning…The Muffin Man.

Do you know a “Muffin Man?” Do tell…

Shaping Your Story

StoryShapeIn my last blog I shared some triggers to help you get started in crafting your own library of personal stories. Our stories are a powerful way to connect and communicate with others, both from a platform as well as in every-day conversation.

We all have stories worth telling, but we have also listened to stories that we wished would end long before they did. While I believe everybody has good stories, not everyone tells their story well. Your story could be a life impacting story for the listener, but in order for that to happen it will likely need some editing and shaping.

Here are a 5 things to help you in shaping your story:

Write It: That may seem obvious to most, but many are tempted to think that because they know the story first-hand, they don’t need to write it out.  However, those who try to tell their story extemporaneously are often the ones who will put their listener to sleep. Writing it will help you distinguish between what needs to be said to move the story along and what is unnecessary or “fluff.”  In addition, writing will help you make discoveries. You will discover more applications for your story in the writing process. Of course after you have crafted it in the writing, commit it to memory. Tell your story, don’t read it!

Follow Simple Structure: A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In improvisation, actors work on simple story structure that applies to all storytelling.

1) Establish when and where.
2) Something goes wrong (aka a crisis occurs).
3) Quest to solve the crisis (what did you do in response to the crisis?).
4) Resolution. Once you get to this place the story is over.

Paying attention to this structure will keep your story focused and prevent it from meandering off course.

Edit: “A friend told me” may be all we need to say vs. “My friend, Robert, who I knew since high school, who was the best man in my wedding, and is the Godfather to my children.” That may be important to you—but not to the listener. Ask yourself: “Does this serve the point or is it a rabbit trail?”

Make it Now!: Strive to tell your story in the present tense, not in the past tense.  Obviously it is a story of something that happened in the past, but try to tell the story so we feel you are experiencing it now.  In my presentation Truth Be Told…from A Guy Who Makes Stuff Up, I share a story about an embarrassing incident that happened on stage in front of a live audience. I “relive” the incident so the audience feels like they are experiencing it with me. I share my thoughts and emotions as if it were happening now. This helps to put the audience in the situation with you and helps guarantee they will identify with your story!

Don’t Sermonize: Even if your story is part of a sermon, resist sermonizing the conclusion. Don’t let your desire to give a message overpower the story. Trust the story to speak for itself. It is likely the lesson you learned from your story wasn’t evident at the time… it may have taken years for the story to have new meaning. For many of my stories that happened years ago, I have only recently discovered applications to my life today. Leave room for the audience to make their own discoveries by reflecting on their own stories.

In storytelling, “the medium is the message.” It may be hard for many pastors and teachers to learn to trust that.  But think of Jesus, the master storyteller.  In telling the parables he didn’t explain them, at least not right away.  He would often say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” He trusted the story to the listener. He only offered explanations later, if necessary. Learn to trust your stories and you will find eager listeners.

You Have A Story—Tell It!

MystorypicIf you are a speaker, teacher or pastor, you probably have books on your shelf that are full of illustrations and anecdotes to help you in communicating your message. Using some of those stories can come in handy, no question, but you have a more valuable resource available to you, a resource that could be a much more effective tool than the oft-repeated stories in those books. That resource is YOU. Your life is made up of hundreds of short stories. These stories are better than any other stories you can tell because they are your stories: you lived them, they are part of you. Authenticity is placed at a very high level in our culture today. People are paying attention to leaders who are willing to be real, transparent, and vulnerable. The best way to do that is to share your own stories.  (I am seeing this for myself with my presentations in which I share some of my own “life stories” —Truth Be Told and Go Ask Your Mother.)

So where do you begin? The first step is to pick a story and write it out. As a teacher or pastor, you often have a message in mind and you pick a story to illustrate that message. However, good stories have the priority of story first! Rather than picking a message and trying to force a story around it, pick a story and see what message emerges—you might be surprised!

As an actor, I have learned much about story from improvisation. In improvisation actors are often given suggestions of random things, and create a story using those suggestions. It might be a place, a thing, or a relationship.  Then off they go making up a story out of a few simple suggestions. No thought is given to message—their only criterion is “what happens next?” Yet many times, without even trying, a message or moral to the story will emerge.

You have an advantage over the improv actor in that you already know these stories; you already know “what comes next.” So to get started, here are 5 ideas to help you jump-start your storytelling.

  • Emotional Stories: Make a list of emotional triggers. An embarrassing story, a sad story, a happiest moment, a time when you were angry, a love story. There will likely be several of these that come to mind.
  • Event Stories: A birth, a death in the family, your wedding day, a birthday, a vacation, a crime.
  • A Place: At home, church, school, an amusement park, a zoo, a concert, a cemetery, a shopping mall, a foreign city.
  • A Thing: You have stories already in your life about all of these: a food, a car, a pet, a book, clothing, a computer, a suitcase, a favorite childhood toy.
  • A Person: A spouse, a brother or sister, a parent, a child, a teacher, a celebrity, a pastor, a doctor, a lawyer,  a taxi cab driver, a best friend, a rival, a bully.

All of these are triggers to get you started. Don’t be surprised if there is a lot of overlap. You will find that many stories will contain something from each list.  Your most embarrassing story might involve your wedding day, at a church, and a disaster involving your spouse and the wedding cake.

Write your story using a simple story structure of a beginning, a middle and an end. I’ve talked about that more in my article “A Really Short Story.

After you have written the story you will be able to go back and find messages and morals that may complement a number of themes. The wedding story might contain a message of proving your love, or staying calm when things go wrong, or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Over time, you can create your own book of illustrations from your own life and that will be far more effective and meaningful than those stories from that book of illustrations.

The Church – A Turtle in a Marathon

turtle-runningI contact a lot of pastors in my “day job,” managing my touring ministry. I often send out an inquiry to churches in a geographical area as I plan my itinerary.  Often these emails are ignored or end up in a spam box; most go unanswered or are returned with a reply “not at this time.” But never in all my years of doing this, do I recall a response quite like this one:

“I am retired as of June 1st, but the worst news is that the “box” that most elderly (denomination withheld) live in here in (state withheld) is about as progressive as a turtle in a marathon.  I would recommend that you concentrate on the larger towns, cities where there are concentrations of the few young people who remain in our denomination as we are chasing them away by the thousands, concentrating on coffee pots being removed from the foyer instead of removing pride and selfishness and spiritual arrogance; seeking humility and surrender at the foot of the cross.  The mistake of most in our faith is the need to stop bashing other faiths and understand that “being right” doesn’t make us righteous, only Jesus makes us righteous. Exterior righteousness is like the veneer of a collapsing house being white-washed.  So, blessings to you, Jesus only can changed the hearts, mine, yours, and turn us to Him.”

Name Withheld, Pastor Emeritus
(used by permission)

This has to be one of the shortest and yet more powerful sermons I have heard in a long time! I found the honesty and candor refreshing. I find myself saying both a hearty “AMEN” and at the same time taking a good look at my own heart.  “Being right doesn’t make us righteous, only Jesus makes us righteous.” What a powerful reminder!

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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