Each week I use this part of our weekly bulletin to communicate with the congregation. This morning, I want to tell you about my experience at a different church last Sunday. I was the guest and visitor. I was unknown to the church and wanted to drive onto the parking lot like a visitor drives onto our parking lot for the first time to remind myself of what this feels like. I would like to tell you about my experience so that we at Berean can be different. During my visit, I was greeted with nothing more than the cursory “good morning” numerous times, and once I had found my way to a Sunday school class, only one person asked me an engaging question. Then after SS, I was left to find my way to the auditorium, and again no one said a thing to me in the auditorium. Remember, I wanted to sense what a visitor goes through when they visit Berean; so I sat there waiting for the service to start. Sitting on a pew alone, not one person said anything to me until a friend saw me. Each Sunday, Berean has an amazing number of visitors, so we need to all be reminded of what needs to be done each and every Sunday. And the first Sunday of the year seems like a great Sunday to remind the church.
When we do not recognize a face, we cannot assume it just means we don’t know who they are. Instead we must ask the question: “Good morning. Are you visiting with us for the first time this morning?” If they say “yes” then we must ask them more questions, and they should be the kind of questions we would want asked of us. And if they say “no”, then let us ask some more questions about who they are and how long they have been visiting or attending Berean. Our questions need to be relevant to location and time. If the person is walking down the hallway before Sunday school, then I am going to ask, “Can I help you find a Sunday school class?” If I see children, my focus will be upon them and helping them to the children’s wing. I will ask, “Did you see the sign for the restrooms?” “Have you been to a preaching service before?” “Do you know anyone here?” “Are you passing through or do you live in Fayetteville?” “Are you a soldier?” “Where are you from?” If they are not in the auditorium yet but it is after Sunday school or before the 8.30pm or 6pm service, I will ask them if they have someone to sit with in the auditorium.
Second, in our large auditorium it is critical that once you have secured the place where you like to sit, that you not remain in your spot but venture out beyond your favorite pew and greet others. Please force yourself to love visitors in the way that you would want to be loved if you were visiting for the first time. Yes, I know that some of you are uncomfortable with this practice and therefore are hesitant to be so bold, but just do it. Once you make this your practice, you will realize just how fulfilling it is to be friendly. It is absolutely critical that you strike up a conversation. Begin with some of the same questions mentioned above. If you see they have small children, ask them if they know about the nursery or our children’s Power Hour service for 1st through 4th graders in the chapel. If they have Awana-age children, ask them if they know about our Wednesday night Awana program at 6:15pm.If they have teenagers, ask them if they have met our student pastor, David McManus, and if they know about our Wednesday night youth program. If you don’t know if they attended a Sunday school class, ask them if they did, and if their answer is “no” then use that as an opportunity to tell them about your Sunday school class.
Third, in Sunday school we must all be watching for people who slip in late. Often visitors will not arrive early. If they slip in after the teacher has already begun the lesson, then someone must take the initiative to slip over to the visitor in order to greet them and hand them a visitor’s card. While this may appear intrusive, it is far worse for somebody to think “nobody cares that I am present in the body of Christ.” Then when Sunday school is over, someone needs to extend a greeting to the guest and invite them to sit with them in the auditorium so they do not have to sit by themselves or be left to be lonely in a pew full of people. You can make the difference!
Fourth, we can’t over emphasize how important it is to put our weekly bulletin in the hands of every guest before church begins. Reading through our bulletin is a great way to learn more about the church. Visitors are nervous, and reading will help fill the time until the service starts. Please look at each person sitting in a pew to see if they have a bulletin in their hand. If they don’t have one, get them one. Give them yours, and then put a white connection card in their hands. Give them time to fill out the card before the service begins; explain how the card is used to get to know everyone who attends Berean each week. And then use the rest of the time to engage them in conversation. (See all the questions you can ask above.)
Finally, when you get back to your seat, get out a white card or a small piece of paper and write down the name of the person you just met and what you learned including where they are from, what brought them to Berean, etc. This will help you greet them after the service. It is impossible for you to remember everyone; so just like you write yourself a note to pick up toilet paper at the store, write yourself a note on a card or your smart phone with the name and information you learned. Then on the following Sunday when the visitor returns, you can open up ‘notepad’ on your smart phone and remind yourself of their names. (Yes we are giving away the ‘company secret’ but so what! Being a friendly church that cares is so much more important.)
So will you help? Will you greet our guests each week as though angels from heaven are visiting among us inspecting Berean for friendliness? Will you engage the visitor like you will want to be engaged when you PCS (move to a new town) and are visiting new churches for the first time? If your answer is “Yes, I can do this to the glory of God”, then I want to thank you in advance for joining the effort make our guests feel the warmth of the love of God each Sunday they join us to worship our Lord, Savior and God.
P.S. It is very difficult to help if you are habitually arriving late. Find excuses to be on time. Helping with visitors is a great one!