If you know you have guests coming over, how do you prepare?
In most cases, a thorough cleaning of your home is top of the list. Then, preparation for snacks or food, if a meal is involved. Maybe lighting a candle to give the house a fresh, clean smell. I'm sure there are other little things that are done as well. The bottom line is we want our guests to know we were expecting them and we prepared for their arrival accordingly.
What does this have to do with church?
We understand the difference in going to church and being the church, but often we forget the reality that many we have connected with in our community seek to come to the campus in order to worship and gather with believers. For many, the arrival on a church campus is a major step. It often has been prompted by life change or a desire to do better in life. Sometimes it is one of the first steps a newcomer to the area makes in order to find a home. There are numerous motivations, but each is prompted (even if not acknowledged) by the drawing the Spirit of God.
The question we must answer as members of the church is "Are we ready for guests?"
This is not just a superficial marketing concept. This is a reality of relating. If we are prepared for guests to arrive, we must show it tangibly. In other words, the preparation and readiness is a real way to let others know we love them and cannot wait for them to join us in God's family as the church.
This is not easy and never happens automatically.
As we prepare for one of the largest attended Sunday mornings of the year (Easter) we must not fall into the weekend unprepared. We have guests coming over. We need to be ready.
Here are some very real, practical steps to that must be taken.
1. CLEAN UP THE HOUSE
Our deacons are working on organizing a church-wide work day on Saturday, April 12 (alternate date of April 19th if it rains on the 12th). Now, the concept of a "work day" is about as attractive as signing up to have your toenails removed, but those of us who attend regularly know there is always work to be done. In most cases, the work on the church grounds is taken care of by those on the maintenance and custodial staff. Some refurbishing has been done regularly by a group of men within the church who see this as their ministry. However, the reality is that the property is large and there are so many "little things" that remain undone. The workload is now very real and will require a concerted effort to get ready.
So, to you small groups who understand the concept of community going beyond a one hour Bible study lesson, this is an opportunity for you to serve together to prepare the property for our guests. The work will entail painting, cleaning, pressure washing, mulching playgrounds, cleaning windows and doing a "once over" to the property to ensure we're ready.
2. THROW AWAY OUTDATED ITEMS AND JUNK
How welcoming is your small group room? Seriously? Look around with fresh eyes. Are there posters on the wall that came out of a teaching packet from three years ago? Are there piles of old magazines or curriculum in the corner? What about the table where your coffee pot or snacks are? Is it clean or does it look stained and dirty?
Here's a recommendation - stop convincing yourself the old curriculum will be reused or would be a great gift for another church or ministry (especially if the pile of books has been sitting in your room for months.) Just throw the junk away and get better posters and things for the walls.
If there are many "sentimental" things in your room (you know, pictures of days-gone-by, trips, meals, former members, deceased members, etc.) take them down. In most cases those things create a sense of a "holy huddle" and celebrates what used to be, rather than what is. This is not engaging or welcoming for guests. It's not very comforting for regular attenders and members either.
Your venue is important and what it looks like says more about your group than you probably know. If your room looks like a scene from "Hoarders" throw away the junk that has accumulated in the corners. We have found this to be a reality - people often clean their homes of unwanted junk and donate it to the church because they cannot bear throwing things away. The result is that church buildings become filled with other people's unwanted junk. Do you know what a room full of unwanted junk looks like? That's right, a room full of unwanted junk.
Remember, in many cases "your" room (which is a misnomer anyway) is often shared with another group. So be careful what you throw away. Oh, you still need to throw the junk away, just be careful.
3. LIGHT A CANDLE OR BRING A "CLEAN SMELLING" AIR FRESHENER
Guess what? Our buildings have rooms that are older than most eastern European nations. That being the case and under the banner of "working with what we have" some of our rooms look dated. . .because they are. Not only that, they smell dated. Yes, we know the smell is real and we try our best to fix that, but aside from removing all the carpet, insulation, walls, flooring, ceiling tiles. . .oh, you know, building a new building, there's just so much we can do. In the meantime, get some air fresheners for your room. Don't get something that is too "perfumy" or your room will offend more than welcome. If it smells too much like flowers, your room will smell like a funeral home.
No one wants to go into a small group classroom that smells more like a junior high boy's locker room either (FYI - junior high boys do not shower, but they do stink, so they end up spraying entire cans of Axe Body Spray on themselves to cover up the stink after gym class. Stepping into these locker rooms is a bounty to olfactory nerves. . .and not in a good way.)
You also do not want your room to smell like the Yankee Candle store in the mall. I like the smell of those scented candles, but to be in a place with so many is overwhelming. So, something clean, but not overpowering is nice. Anything would be better than "Church Musty" which is a common smell in most churches.
By the way - Lysol smells like a hospital, so unless you like that antiseptic odor, that's probably not the best option either.
The smell of "Fresh Linen" has been recommended. I have no idea what is, because I am a guy, but nevertheless it's been recommended. Do what you wish. (Oh, and don't set the building on fire with "Plug-Ins" or by leaving candles lit.)
4. BE INTENTIONALLY WELCOMING TO GUESTS
This seems like such a no-brainer, but it's hard. Guess what? When ministry is easy. . .it's no longer ministry. The easy thing to do is to arrive on campus, get out of your car, go to whatever room you always go to and just hang out with people you already know. When this is done over and over the perception that "We're a friendly bunch" is believed, but not enacted.
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said "I was ignored" or "I didn't feel welcome here." If I did, I would have. . .well, only about $20, but still, that's way too many. Most people don't let us know they didn't feel welcome. They just don't come back.
If guests are not made to feel welcome, we have missed an opportunity.
Oh, and I have heard many times the reasonings for not greeting, welcoming and engaging new people. They range from "We don't know who the guests are" to "Sometimes people don't want to be talked to" or some such drivel. The reality is that we excuse what we don't want to do.
I do. I'm sure you as well.
Yet, here's the problem. We (the pastors and leadership team) have often said "We need to be intentionally welcoming" and then we do not show anyone what that looks like. We have not given practical handles to grab hold of that reveal this.
In an attempt to be clear and to show what this looks like, the Sunday morning service on April 6 will not feature a typical sermon. We will pray. We will sing. We will worship. Then, we will prepare for Easter Sunday with some details on how to welcome guests, members, family members and friends. We're not working to create a "fake welcome" but an engaging atmosphere where people feel loved and important and therefore will be open to the work of the Spirit of God.
5. SEND A PORTION OF YOUR SMALL GROUP OUT ON EASTER TO WELCOME AND ENGAGE GUESTS
What does this look like? Well, it may be serving in the front foyer at one of our new welcome tables (to arrive within the next few weeks), at one of the tables in our Welcome Center (bye-bye Antebellum furniture), in the gym at the 9:15am service, beside one of the children's check-in stations throughout the campus, in the back parking lot greeting worshippers as they arrive or in the front lot near the Guest parking areas and working with the parking ministry team as they greet guests.
Why do this? Doesn't everyone need to be in small group that Sunday morning?
Well, we do this because we must and "NO" not everyone needs to be sitting in a small group room that morning (or any Sunday morning, for that matter.) This isn't so much a mandate to just roam around the campus, but is something to be done strategically and intentionally.
The question that must be answered is "Do guests matter?" If the answer is "yes" then we must do that which is necessary to prepare for their arrival.
Oh, and just in case we forget. . .we are inviting our "guests" to become part of the family.