Resources for Bible Teachers

Other Articles

:: 'Other Articles' Index ::
Other Articles sub-menu - :: Book Reviews :: :: Media Articles ::

Putting Everyone In the Picture ::

LOREN BECROFT looks at ways to make your church meeting outsider friendly.
Source: Perspective Vo10 No3&4 © Perspective 2003

It doesn’t matter if the speaker is Billy Graham or if the band is lead by Geoff Bullock, outsiders won’t want to come back if people aren’t genuinely interested in welcoming new people into their church

Where I’m Coming From
I’ve been a Christian for most of my life and most of that time I spent in a small country church with the same people week in week out. In 1996 I moved to Brisbane and, admittedly, I’ve been going to the same church there. But I have been making an effort to visit other churches. This article springs from my experiences in visiting other churches as well as reassessing the practices of my own church.

I visited a church in Sydney a couple of years ago and the teaching was excellent, the music complemented the teaching quite well and the person leading the service was friendly but the congregation wasn’t. I sat by myself looking as lonely and as lost as possible before and after the service and no one came up to talk with me. I have friends who have had similar experiences when visiting new churches. It doesn’t matter if the speaker is Billy Graham or if the band is lead by Geoff Bullock, outsiders won’t want to come back if people aren’t genuinely interested in welcoming new people into their church.

Often when we feel comfortable in our church meetings we assume that it’s outsider friendly. In most cases this isn’t true. It just means that things are the way that we like it, nothing’s ruffling our feathers. As a church we’re often afraid to adapt our church meetings to make them more outsider friendly because it will either cause us some discomfort or question denominational traditions.

Before I go any further I’ll define some terms … an outsider is anyone walking into your church meeting off the streets, whether they be a uni student, businessman or homeless person, who isn’t familiar with a church setting or who is a Christian visiting, church is a term I’ll use to describe the Christian family and a church meeting is a meeting of that family, predominantly referring to the main church meeting, usually held on Sundays.

I’m new … tattoo that on my forehead!
It’s often easy to pick outsiders in a church. They’re usually the ones starting to stand at the wrong time, having trouble with the songbooks or looking completely lost and lonely. Although many people think that welcoming outsiders and visitors from the pulpit makes them feel like a part of the family, it’s one of the most unwelcoming things that you can do. There are many other ways to welcome an outsider in a church meeting other than by publicly announcing their presence from the pulpit.

We need to be welcoming of outsiders as soon as they walk in the door. They need to be welcomed straight away and talked to straight after the meeting-not as an after thought. You want to be friendly and welcome outsiders into your church but you don’t want to have a crowd of people swamp them as soon as they walk in the door like vultures swarming over a decaying carcass. There needs to be a degree of sensitivity about the way this is done and it starts by building a relationship.

It’s been found over the past few years that people are coming to Christ via relationship evangelism rather than the crusade style that was popular in the 60s and 70s. In the past we had a non-Christian girl from China coming to our church meeting. She was in Australia studying for a short while and came to our church meeting through a relationship that she had at uni with one of the girls at church. The Chinese girl kept coming back because we have included her in our family. Through these relationships we have been able to explain in detail the whole gospel to her and she’s been able to see that gospel active in our everyday lives. She has now returned to China and is planning on going to a church over there.

Developing this type of relationship starts with a “meaningful conversation”. Tony Payne wrote an excellent article in an issue of Fellow Workers addressing how we can get beyond football and the weather in our conversations at a church meeting. Having meaningful conversations with outsiders shows that you are genuinely interested in and concerned for them. It’s often a challenge to have a meaningful conversation with a complete stranger but, with some practice, it becomes quite easy. Often the reason that it’s hard to have a decent conversation with a visitor at church is that we don’t get beyond “football and the weather” with other members of our church.

Getting beyond the meaningful conversations means including outsiders in your church in your every day lives. This can be quite a challenge because we’re often very comfortable with our lives outside of church and don’t want anyone entering our comfort zone. At our church we have a number of “challenging” people who come to our church meeting every week, so including them in our lives is pretty difficult. In these situations we usually let the more senior members of the church involve them in their lives or we involve them in the life of a group in a neutral situation.

It’s also helpful to have a degree of common sense when choosing which outsiders with whom to build relationships and encourage to be more involved. For example, a single, younger male building a relationship with a single female of the same age and encouraging her to come along will send unhelpful mixed messages. If it’s the practice in your church for Elders/Deacons to visit visitors it may be helpful for them to take a church member along with them who’s in the same situation as the person that they’re visiting.

Assume Nothing
Err, do I stand or do I sit? Umm, am I supposed to know this? Often when outsiders come to a church meeting this is the feeling that they get. Most people who go to the one church regularly know the little quirks that happen during the service, for example, standing to sing etc. Many of these quirks are things that are unnatural to the outsider and clear instructions need to be given. This requires though by the person leading the meeting at that point in time.

There was a point in history when, if you did a survey, most people could probably recite the Lord’s Prayer and most would know some of the words to “Amazing Grace”. This was a time when the church was the centre of a society, when every child went to Sunday School because that was the done thing. In 2003 this isn’t the case. The church’s reputation isn’t one of model citizens; it’s one of corruption and scandal. Today many people wouldn’t know what the Lord’s Prayer is let alone what the words are. So, in a church meeting, when everyone else is reciting the Lord’s Prayer from memory an outsider tends to feel left out because they don’t know what’s happening. If you’re going to be saying a creed or prayer together as a congregation, it’s a good idea to print whatever you’re going to be saying. This means that everyone can be included in what’s happening. It also means that, particularly if a different version is used every so often, everyone is reading the same version and not reciting it, this makes people think about what they’re saying more.

In the Know
“I have been justified, sanctified, forgiven and set free …” For us who are “in the know” this song is fantastic and represents some amazing biblical truths. But where else in daily life do you use words like “justified” or “sanctified”? I know that I don’t go up to my friends and say, “Hey, I’m feeling a little more sanctified today.” Words like justified, sanctified, sacraments and many others can be grouped under the heading of “Christian jargon” – words that are specific to the Christian life. To us, as Christians, these words represent the awesome things that God has done for us but for the outsider we might as well be speaking another language, they mean nothing.

Those who have an upfront speaking role in the church (e.g. the speaker, song leader, people praying etc) need to clarify words like these. It often seems like too much work but it isn’t really. A speaker whose topic is justification could say, “Tonight I’m speaking on the topic of justification. That seems like a bit of a mouthful but justification is …” A song leader could explain some of the words in their introduction to the song or songs which don’t require explanation could be chosen. Not only does this put outsiders “in the know” but it reminds us, as Christians, of what some of these words mean.

Those leading the prayer times during a meeting should be careful with the amount of Christian jargon that they use. In fact, it’s wise to use the least amount possible. This is for two reasons: firstly, we don’t pray in a special holy language, even Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples in the language of the day. You may find lacing prayers with Christian jargon helpful in your personal communication with God but for public prayers it’s more helpful to use everyday language. Secondly, for people to say “Amen” and agree with what you’re praying it’s important that they understand what you’re praying, Christians and outsiders alike. It’s easier to lengthen your prayer a little bit by using a simpler words to convey the same meaning than trying to remember a lot of big, theological words.

There are also words which, when used in church context may mean something different to the definition that’s running through a visitor’s mind. One example of this is some of the language used in the more traditional versions of the Apostle’s Creed. We have started to say this creed once a month at my local church and I cringe at some of the language that we use-especially since it can be taken to mean something else, particularly by outsiders. One example of this is “I believe in the holy Catholic church”.
Although this language may represent a great truth-that we believe in one holy, universal church-it seems a lot easier just to say what we mean rather than create confusion.

Give, Give, Give
One of my friends was telling me of an experience he had when visiting a new church. The main thing that stood out in our conversation is the amount of times that the church asked for money. Is this what a church should be about? Definitely not! Yes, of course a church needs money to run but those who should be giving are those who attend regularly, those who know the reasons why they are giving. Many outsiders, when visiting a church, feel extremely uncomfortable and pressured when a collection plate is held in front of them until they are guilt-tripped into giving something. Or people may feel that people are watching them and be pressured into giving more than they can actually afford.

Whether using collection plates, bags or a box it’s important that outsiders are ensured that they don’t have to give. I visited a church in Sydney where this was done very well. The person leading the meeting said, “If today is your first time here then please have this Sunday on us. If you’re a regular …”
Breaking the Cliques
I visited a large church in Sydney recently (a different one to the start of the article!) and someone came up to talk with me as soon as I walked through the door (though, not as a vulture). We talked for quite a while before the service and she introduced me to people afterwards and made sure that I wasn’t alone at any point. It was fantastic, I felt that people really did care that I was there. I found out during supper after the meeting that the girl had a boyfriend there and she had given up sitting next to her boyfriend during the church meeting to sit with me and make me feel welcome. I thought that was amazing.

We need to go to these lengths when including outsiders in our church. We need to show that caring for and loving them is important and it’s at the top of our priority list. Church meetings shouldn’t be the only place where we see other members of our church. We can quite easily arrange to “go for coffee” anytime during the week with other people from our church but after church is probably the only time that you’ll get to show genuine concern and Christian love for an outsider.

Diluting the Divine
By making simple changes to a church meeting can make outsiders feel like a part of the family. You may be thinking that some of these things are against the traditions that your church holds. I’ll be the first to admit that they probably are. But is the most important thing in our church meetings how strictly we adhere to church tradition?

A Recipe For Success?
In finishing, I’d like to say that these tips are in no way a definite recipe for success in making outsiders feel welcome at your church. They’re a few theories and practical ideas that I’ve gained from experience in my home church and from visiting other churches. There are two main things that I would recommend you do …
Firstly, I’d recommend visiting other churches. Visiting other churches (particularly other denominations) where you don’t know anyone gives a great insight into what it’s like to be a visitor in a church. It enables you to see, not only how that particular church treats its visitors and the method it uses to welcome people, but what it feels like to be a visitor, to be lonely, to not be talked to by anyone, to be embarrassed in a place where you don’t feel right. It’s a challenging learning experience.

Secondly, we need to take a step back from our own church. We need to see what we’re doing to “put people in the picture”; we need to put ourselves in the shoes of a visitor to our church and imagine what they’re going through when they arrive at the church meeting.

I have found the following resources helpful and we’ve used some of them in our church planning:

Beyond Footy and the Weather by Tony Payne (Fellow Workers Issue 10)
The Welcoming Church by Peter Corney
Mission Minded by Peter Bolt
Welcome a New Person and What do you do once you meet someone who is new to church? by Peter Collier ( August & September 2001)
The Ministry of the Pew by Colin Marshall (Factorum Issue 1)
Asking Aliens for Money by Peter Avery (The Briefing Issue 296)

Loren Becroft is a trainee Staffworker with the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Brisbane.

:: 'Other Articles' Index ::
Other Articles sub-menu - :: Book Reviews :: :: Media Articles ::


Sermon Series

Preaching Articles


Christmas Resources

Other Articles



These are articles relating to ministry in general, book reviews, media reviews and the such.

Some of the more date-sensitive material has been retired to the Archive section, and can be perused there.

As always, feel free to contribute material for this section by submitting details via our Contact page.