When I was visiting New Zealand in my 20s, I attended my first Anglican church service. I was uninitiated in this tradition and found myself fumbling along, trying to figure out what I should be doing with all the various hymn books and prayer books. I was a believer and I wanted to engage; I was just completely unfamiliar with this tradition. An older woman sitting near me must have noticed my fumbling, and asked, “Could I be of help to you?” I gratefully took her up on her kind offer, and she became my tour guide for the duration of the service. She queued up the hymn book to the right page and prompted me on what to do next. Essentially, she was sensitive to my being a newcomer and made me feel welcome.

The Welcome Factor

No matter what your worship style is like, there will be someone from the outside who is not familiar with it. Imagine if you went to visit a mosque or a synagogue: you’d be wondering what to expect and what you were supposed to do. So whether your worship service is more believer-oriented or more seeker-oriented or somewhere in between, consider how someone new would experience it and how you might help them understand it and feel more comfortable.

Consider a more charismatic-leaning worship service. Maybe there’s a prayer time when everyone prays out loud at once. Maybe the person leading worship could warn people what’s going to happen: “It’ll be noisy, but God can hear all of us at once.” Every church has a “liturgy” of some kind even if it’s not called that. What’s yours?

I used to explain communion each time we took it for the benefit of those not familiar with the sacrament.Then I’d give a very brief gospel presentation and follow it up by asking those who have responded to this message to participate with us. Those still considering it were welcome to enjoy the music, reflect, and pass the plate along when it came to them without taking the bread or grape juice. In our setting, I found I baptized quite a lot of people whose first real understanding of the gospel came to them through our communion service. That’s when the pieces came together for them and it made sense.

Is your church accessible?

There are two basic ways to make worship services accessible to outsiders. You can have people intentionally looking out for those fumbling or looking confused and have them offer to serve as personal tour guides. Or you could provide brief prompts from up front, “You can find the next hymn on page 239 in the blue book in your pews.” We are going to “pass the peace” now with our neighbors; here’s what that means. Some worship services offer fuller explanations of certain elements in their printed bulletins, which works well: new people will read the bulletins and then know what to do, while regular attenders will simply ignore that section of the bulletin.

There are different ways to make a service newcomer-friendly, but you don’t want it to be an uncomfortable experience for people who aren’t already familiar with your approach. Creating strategies for having it both ways can help you underscore your values of growth and worship for believers and also your value for reaching out and being inclusive to unbelievers and newcomers. Considering both perspectives can also help you not lose people—either new people or existing believers. All need to feel welcome.

More Resources:

The Leadership Difference– A fantastic resource for the practical skills that are necessary to lead well, but are often overlooked in seminaries. Whether you are leading a church, a team, or a small group, skills and strategies like those covered in this book will result in lightening your own load, developing the skills of others, and getting the job done effectively.

Finding the Flow– Small groups are the backbone of a healthy, growing church. This book covers everything you want your small group leaders to know. And if you are looking for ready-to-go small group leader training, we highly recommend this downloadable companion work.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash