Jump Start # 2086
Ezekiel 3:15 “Then I came to the exiles who lived beside the river Chebar at Tel-abib, and I sat there seven days where they were living, causing consternation among them.”
The prophet Ezekiel sat with the exiles. He sat where they sat. That’s a profound thought when we consider the impressions we make with visitors. We are continuing some thoughts about becoming a welcoming church. A common expression today is “user friendly.” We want phones that do everything, yet are easy to use. We want technology that is easy to understand. We hate buying something new and along with it comes a user guide that is as thick as the phone book. This gave birth to the series of books entitled, “Dummies.” Cell phones for Dummies. Powerpoint for Dummies. Those books expanded beyond technology to: Golf for Dummies, and even, Parenting for Dummies.
We would do well to follow the lead of Ezekiel and sit where the visitor sits. We may find that our language and our services are not very user friendly. We do things that we all understand, but for the first time visitor, it may seem very odd to him.
We use the expression, “Gospel Meeting.” We understand what that means. A visiting preacher is invited to come and speak for a few days. A lot of publicity is used to promote this. Other congregations are invited. The church is encouraged to invite family and friends. “Come to our Gospel Meeting next week,” we say to a co-worker. We know what we mean by that. He doesn’t. Gospel Meeting? He has meetings at work. They are long and boring. So now, he’s invited to come to a Gospel MEETING? Doesn’t sound so exciting from his standpoint. Maybe a better expression would be “Bible lessons,” or “teachings from the Bible.”
Also, we tend to promote the speaker rather than the topics. For instance, “Come here, Roger preach this week.” You and I may know who Roger is (I think I do), but for your co-worker, he has never heard of him. He doesn’t know anything about him. Wouldn’t it be better to emphasize the topic rather than the speaker? Come here a Bible lesson about “Life, the way it was meant to be.” Or, come here a lesson about, “Heaven– what do you expect?” Interesting. Lesson driven rather than preacher driven.
I sat where they sat. Consider that many people do not know the Bible, especially the order of the books of the Bible. We’ve known the books of the Bible since we were kids. Most don’t. They might get, Matthew-Mark-Luke-John, but don’t be surprised if they are looking around in the Old Testament for Corinthians. So, a visitor comes, and everyone knows where to look, but he doesn’t. It won’t take very long and he will feel like he is in a secret society and he’s an outsider and doesn’t belong. What can be done? If the church uses pew Bibles, page numbers could be referred to. The preacher could help identify where he is at. Someone sitting next to a visitor could help out. Passages could be listed on the screen.
Along with that, there are certain words that most of us know but the visitor may not. A miracle—we understand that a miracle is God suspending the laws of nature. A miracle cannot happen naturally. The visitor doesn’t know that. He hears that word used every day. It’s a miracle he made it to work on time with the traffic the way it was. It was a miracle that his son didn’t miss the bus today. To the visitor, a miracle is just getting something done by the skin of your teeth and it’s an everyday event. He doesn’t understand how rare, special and powerful Biblical miracles are. So, being user friendly, sitting where he sits, the preacher needs to take just a moment to explain words so everyone is on the same page in understanding. Don’t assume that everyone has heard of the flood. Not so. Everyone knows, the preacher thinks, the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. No, they haven’t, and especially the details behind the story. It’s like sitting down and playing a game with some friends. If everyone knows the game, you just begin playing. But if there is one person who has never played before, it’s all foreign to him. You have to explain things and sometimes even have a practice round. You have to sit where he sits to bring him up to understanding.
What all takes place during worship is another thing that most of us are very comfortable with. We know that on Sunday we may start with a song or a prayer. Then a few more songs. Then the Lord’s Supper. A reading of Scriptures, followed by a preacher delivering a sermon. More songs. Announcements. Prayer. We’ve done this for years. It runs very smooth for us. But for the first time visitor, everything is new and strange to him. He doesn’t know what’s coming next. He doesn’t know what to expect. He sees a plate being passed and everyone around him is putting in checks. He didn’t bring his checkbook. What will happen? Will he be sent a bill? Does he have to pay before he leaves? How much is this going to cost? He didn’t think about this. No one told him. He didn’t know about this. You and I laugh at such things, but sitting where he sits, this suddenly becomes very uncomfortable. He notices different men getting up to do things. Some get up and lead a prayer. Some get up and pass the communion. Is he expected to get up and do something? Will he have to speak? Again, what we know is a warm and encouraging experience, could become very frightening for someone who doesn’t know.
Listing the order of services in the bulletin or on the screen might help. Having a friendly face greet him when he enters might help. Having someone explain things might help. Sitting where he sits. User friendly. We’ve forgotten that and taken that for granted.
As the visitor leaves, he notices some literature that seems interesting. There are some sermon CD’s in a rack. He doesn’t know how much they cost nor who he is supposed to pay. He doesn’t know that they are free. He doesn’t know that the church has provided these tools for times such as these. He has visited other places where they charge for the CD’s. Again, signs, ushers, friendly faces can help with all of that.
Take a serious look at your building, your worship, the words being used. Are they understandable to a visitor? Does it make sense to someone who has never been there before? Is it user friendly? Have you sat where they sat and looked at things through their eyes?
It’s wonderful to invite family and friends to our services. But if that’s as far as it goes, and they leave confused, scared and uncertain, there is a good chance that they will never come back. Make it inviting, warm and friendly. You do that by sitting where they sit and seeing things through their eyes.