It was my first time to attend a wedding in Argentina. It was also my first Catholic wedding. I went with a bit of nervousness, hoping that I wouldn’t do anything to offend.
As soon as we arrived, my companion headed for the font of holy water. I was unsure what to do. Should I do the same? Would anyone be offended if I did, since I wasn’t Catholic? Would anyone be offended if I abstained? I knew it was best to follow my beliefs but sincerely hoped no one would be bothered by my actions.
Then when we reached the pew where we would sit, this woman immediately went to her knees on the rail in front of us and began praying. Again, I wasn’t sure what others would think when I didn’t join her there.
Fortunately, I quickly realized that this wedding ceremony wasn’t about me; nobody really cared what I did or didn’t do. But that evening of uncertainty gave me new insights into how visitors feel when they attend church for the first time.
They aren’t sure when to stand or to sit. They don’t know if they are supposed to participate in the communion service or respectfully abstain. When the preacher says, “Read with me in John 3,” does he really mean that he wants them to read out loud? Are prayers recited as a group or listened to reverently? There are many things non-members are uncertain of when attending a church service for the first time.
Is your church service visitor friendly? Is it designed in a way that outsiders can understand what is going on? Or is the language used full of jargon that is only understandable to those who come regularly? How often do you take the time to explain the basics of what is going on?
We don’t have to change the entire service on account of those who might visit. But we should be aware of their anxieties and uncertainties, going out of our way to make them feel more at ease.
When Paul writes to the Corinthians, he says:
“To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:22—23)
In the same way, churches today can show sensitivity to outsiders, reaching out to them in love so that those outsiders can one day become a part of God’s family.
This material comes from a seminar called “Church Inside Out” that is available through Hope For Life, a Herald of Truth ministry. For more information, visit www.heraldoftruth.org/seminars.