Wedding Crashers

Last weekend I attended two weddings in northern Virginia. The first I was invited to: the oldest son of our seminary besties got married, simultaneously taking the best selfie that I’ve ever personally witnessed.

The second was not one that I was necessarily invited to, unless you count “invited” as “I used my spiritual gift of nosiness to watch a wedding go down at the hotel where we were staying.”

I emerged from my hotel room at about 9 AM Sunday, fully expecting to grab a cup of coffee from the hotel lobby and kick back with my Bible to get some literal quiet time. (We were traveling sans three year old, so my wife and sons were exercising their spiritual gifts of sleeping until check out.) But the quiet time never happened. I walked out into the cool Virginia morning to hear the nadaswaram rocking and to see the stage being set for a genuine Hindu wedding.

If you’re like me, you didn’t grow up with genuine Hindu weddings. You grew up with genuine Southern Baptist weddings: elegant soirees with the exact same vows usually officiated by the exact same preacher followed by a reception in the exact same gym decorated with the exact same lattice while you enjoyed the exact same butter mints. 

Oh sure, I knew lots of different couples who got married in lots of different churches, but all the DNA of all the ceremonies were a 99.14% match. In other words: I’m familiar with Southern Baptist weddings. I know how they work. I know what all the traditions and trappings mean (for example: butter mints mean you’re too cheap to spring for a buffet).

But a Hindu wedding? Entirely unfamiliar. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when 9:55 rolled around and an announcer took the stage, explaining that the wedding would be commencing in five minutes and that she would be serving as an emcee of sorts, explaining what each of the traditions meant as we went along.

And so she did. From the entrance of the groom and the welcome of the bride’s family to the exchanging of garlands to the blessing of the couple by the priest, the emcee broke down every element of the service for the non-Hindu wedding guests and the non-guest / creepy pastor who was hanging out fifty feet away. While I couldn’t stay for the entire ceremony (Hindu weddings go long but my check out time only went till noon), I caught as much as I could, aided greatly in my understanding by the helpful emcee.

What does this have to do with the price of chole bhature in Delhi? Quite a lot, actually. I was struck on Sunday morning not only that I was a minority culture, but that I felt like a minority culture. I was an outsider in the truest sense, trying to make heads or tails of traditions that were entirely foreign to me. I was trading my 20 minute wedding ceremony for an all-day affair, my church gym reception with a lavish party, and I didn’t have a clue what any of it meant.

But the emcee did. And she faithfully guided us through the meaning of each element of the service. And so, as an outsider, I was able to feel a little more like an insider.

Every single weekend, someone shows up at your church with the same level of knowledge that I had at a Hindu wedding. They don’t understand communion (“Okay everybody, time to drink the blood and eat the flesh of the man who died for us.”). They don’t understand baptism (“So I went to this church, and they pushed this fully clothed guy under the water for no good reason.”). They definitely don’t understand the offering (“I told you those church people were just after my money.” / “Is it okay if I make change?”).

Churches that plan for their guests and want them to return will provide an emcee of sorts. Churches that want to make outsiders insiders will take frequent moments throughout the service and explain what’s about to happen and why. It doesn’t have to be a theological defense. It doesn’t have to be an extended soapbox. It just needs to convey the value of the moment and the value of the guest.

It’s time to grade your service: how do you address the wedding crashers?

(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

Let’s start with the basics: we should aim to talk to our guests all the time. When they show up on the weekend, they are our honored guests (that’s why we call ’em guests, and not the V-word).

But there are strategic times during the worship service when we should especially address our guests. When we do so, we serve not only our guests, but our members and regular attendees as well. Addressing guests reminds a growing church that there are newcomers in the midst, and encourages a plateaued or declining church of our evangelistic responsibility.

Keller says it this way in Center Church:

Almost every Christian, if they pay attention, will be able to sense whether a worship experience will be attractive to their non-Christian friends. They may find a particular service wonderfully edifying for them and yet know their nonbelieving neighbors would react negatively, and so they wouldn’t even consider bringing them along. They do not think they will be impressed or interested. Because this is their expectation, they do nothing about it, and a vicious cycle begins. Pastors see only Christians present, so they lack incentive to make their worship comprehensible to outsiders. But since they fail to make the necessary changes to adapt and contextualize, outsiders never come. The pastors continue to respond to the exclusively Christian audience that gathers, and the cycle continues. Therefore, the best way to get Christians to bring non-Chrsitians to a worship service is to worship as if there are dozens of skeptical onlookers. If we worship as if they are there, eventually they will be.

So you should make a plan for talking to guests every single week. Here are six specific times that you can do that:

  1. At the beginning of the service. Within the first five minutes someone should deliver a welcome. Most churches do that, but we have to be intentional in recognizing that there are guests present. So welcome them. Let them know you’ve planned the weekend with them in mind, and you’re glad they showed up. (“Some of you may be with us for the very first time. We want you to know that we’re especially glad you’re here. There are a lot of places you could be or other things you could be doing, and we’re grateful that you’ve trusted us with your time.”)
  2. During the sermon. Your preaching shouldn’t be exclusively focused on the guests in your midst, neither should it be exclusive to the seasoned saints among you. So every weekend in every sermon, address the common doubts, questions, and “so what?” moments that your guests are certainly having. (“If you consider yourself an agnostic or atheist, skeptic or seeker, this [passage / statement / point] may be confusing or it might make you downright angry. This is a place where you are welcome to ask your questions…I still have lots of them as well…let’s work through this together.”)
  3. Prior to communion. Whether your church offers communion weekly or quarterly or anywhere in between, you have a responsibility to “fence the table” appropriately and explain the significance of the event. (“This church offers many things that are wide open to you. But if you’re here today and you’re not yet a believer, the Bible is clear that this one act of worship is not intended for you. As the elements come by, we respectfully ask that you let them pass you, and rather use this time to reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus made for you.”)
  4. Before the offering. Nothing riles a newcomer’s fur quite like the money bucket coming around. So give ’em a pass before it’s passed. Let your guests know that the service isn’t about what they should give, but what they can receive. (“If you’re a guest, we don’t want you to feel compelled to give in any way, we’re just glad that you’re here.”)
  5. At the end. As you’re dismissing the service, remind guests of an appropriate next step. For your church, that might mean a stop by the Welcome Center or First Time Guest Tent. Whenever we remind guests of that opportunity, we always see an uptick in those that drop by. (“Maybe you saw the First Time Guest Tent when you entered. That’s set up especially for you. We have a gift there for you and would love the opportunity to get to know you.”)
  6. Any time something is unclear. Baptism. Communion. Commissioning. The stand up / sit down / stand up / sit down game that is Baptist Aerobics. No, you don’t have to specifically address those explanations to your guests, but an occasional description of what is coming next will benefit not only first timers, but long-timers. (“This morning we’re sending out one of our families to serve as church planters overseas. Any time we do this, it is our privilege to pray for them as they go out.”)

So what area(s) did I miss? Are there other times when we definitely should address guests? Comment below.

Coming tomorrow: when NOT to talk your guests.

It seems that everybody has a first time guest horror story.

You show up at a church for the first time and you’re either put on the spot, ignored, or confused. People don’t talk to you, or the pastor calls on you from the stage, or some other nightmarish scenario emerges to make even the most raging extrovert cringe in embarrassment.

I’ve both experienced and heard of a whole library of guest horror stories, and there’s one thing they all have in common: comfort. Nope, not the comfort of the guest (they’re sweatin’ bullets in the third pew back), but the comfort of the regulars.

Church people naturally tend to drift towards an inward focus. When they do, they forget that part of the purpose of the weekend is to serve as a front door to the community. And so – being inwardly focused – they pursue things that guarantee their own comfort: insider language. Insider traditions. Insider everything.

Comfort for insiders will always lead to discomfort for outsiders. When the weekend starts to revolve around our likes, our preferences, our comfort, it will naturally make outsiders feel like…outsiders.

But the reverse is true as well: comfort for outsiders can mean discomfort for insiders. We have to think about our processes and systems. We have to remember that there are others in the room. We have to change what we’re doing because we realize it’s not all about us.

So who do you want to make uncomfortable this weekend? The people you’re trying to reach? Or the people who are already in the pews?

Something to pray about.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that Fridays are usually reserved for archived posts. But that was before @MichaelMears tweeted this question yesterday:

Are you gonna blog any on connecting new peeps at Easter & follow up? Just an idea :)

Y’all know I’m not one to back down from a challenge. Unless it involves push ups. Or sit ups. Or chin ups. Or licking a scorpion. But give me a free idea for fresh content and I’m on that like stink on a monkey. So here we go, thanks to Michael…


Easter is over. You’ve put your good suit back in the closet, you’ve had your Sunday afternoon coma nap, and you’ve finished off the last of the leftover ham sandwiches.

So what now?

What do you do about the stack of guest cards that are sitting on your desk, waiting on your Monday morning arrival? How do you follow up with the people God sent your way? What’s the best way to turn a first time guest into a returning guest?

  1. Get good information. One of the cardinal sins of ministering to guests is getting them to your church, but not knowing they’re at your church. Prior to your first Easter service, remind your First Time Guest Team the importance of capturing good information. “Bob” written on a card is not good info. Get email, phone, address, family members’ names, whatever. Oh, and make sure it’s legible. [our guest info card]
  2. Provide a reason for them to leave their information. Some guests like to remain anonymous. While you should honor that, you should also make the information capture as painless as possible. We try to do that pre-service at our First Time Guest tent. It’s outside and in the way so that people (a) have to walk past it and (b) feel like that’s a “safe place” to find out where to go next. We also give ’em a gift bag as an incentive to stop by. And finally, we let the guest know that leaving their information means that a pastor will follow up via phone call or email to see how their experience was. We try to offset fears of someone showing up at their house on Monday night. (We also capture information in the service on a tear-off card, but the tent provides a face and a conversation and facilitates a friendship.)
  3. Send an immediate follow up email. If you can get a team of volunteers to enter information into a database as it comes, great. Many church offices close the Monday after Easter (ours does). In full disclosure, we probably won’t be able to get all of that info entered and finalized until sometime Tuesday, but you should strive to be more awesome than us. :) We use MailChimp and a pre-formatted email complete with links to our website, Starting Point event, etc. MailChimp keeps you from being blocked as spam whether you’re sending a few dozen or a few hundred emails.
  4. Make a phone call. This is such an easy “touch” that so many pastors leave out. I’ve made thousands of 2-3 minute phone calls in ten years at the Summit, phone calls that generally pay huge dividends in helping a guest feel like a huge church isn’t so huge. The purpose of the call is simple: I thank them for coming, ask about their experience, and invite them to a next step. My goal is always to be off the phone in three minutes – but that’s in honor of their time. If they have questions or want to talk more, I’ll spend whatever time necessary. [sample phone script]
  5. Provide a next step. For us, that’s Starting Point, and we specifically scheduled it for two weekends after our big Easter rush. We’ll pull out all the stops to get everyone to that event, which highlights various on ramps into the church, from small groups to service to baptism to covenant membership. Your next step might be a welcome reception, or a new believers class, or a party, or whatever. But provide a quick way for people to further connect.
  6. Empower your people to do their own follow up. Most of this weekend’s guests will be there at the invitation of a friend or family member. If you’re a pastor, your job is to equip them to do the work of the ministry. Don’t cheat ’em. Encourage them to take their guests to lunch and discuss what they’ve heard. Remind them to invite their guests to return again the following weekend. Or provide a resource: challenge them to study the gospel of John with their unbelieving friend, or to go through a deeper study like Christianity Explained

I’ll bet you know an item or two I’ve left out. I want to hear from you. Comment below!

Other good content from around the web:

Connectors gonna connect.

Back in 2003 when I started in the brand new role of Assimilation Pastor here at the Summit Church, I had one thought on my mind:

“Does assimilation have one ‘m’ or two?”

The second thought was, “How quickly can we change my title to something else?”

But a third thought was also in the recesses of my brain: “Am I the only one out here?”

At the time, I only knew of one other Connections Pastor in the nation, the Hoosier Daddy* himself, Mark Waltz. And since that time, I’ve gotten to know a few dozen more men and women who do what I do.

But I know there are more out there. And I know at least a few of you stumble across this corner of the blogosphere from time to time. That’s why today I’m announcing the First Annual Connective Tissue Connections Ministry Survey™. (It’s not really trademarked, but I think you’ll agree it makes it look way cooler.)

Here’s how this works: you click the link below, fill out a simple form, and then boom: I know you’re out there. Whether you’re a connections pastor, director, guru, czar, dictator, or potentate, I’d like to hear from you. Whether you’re full time or part time, paid or volunteer, megachurch or Possum Holler Baptist, I’d love to connect.

The fine print: I’m building this list for my personal use. I won’t sell, spam, share, or trade your info for any reason other than personal, targeted, one-on-one connection opportunities (i.e., “Your church is in Council Grove? You need to meet my buddy David up in Topeka.”). I won’t put you on my Christmas card list (unless you ask, and send money to cover the Madonna and Child stamp). I reserve the right to use it to promote my upcoming All-Star Connections Pastor Polka Band World Tour. And from time to time (translated: very rarely because we’re all so stinkin’ busy), I may pass along news you can actually use, news that would bore a mere mortal blogging audience, but would make connections nerds cackle with glee.

So that’s it. Reach out. Make contact. Whether we know each other or not, whether you’re in Jacksonville or Johannesburg, whether you’re brand new or a seasoned pro, let’s connect.

Here we go: Connective Tissue Connections Ministry Survey.

 

 

*You gotta admit, that’s one of my better puns.