Over the last two years, I have had the privilege of leading our Guest Services ministry at our church. In the last year, we have grown significantly with many of those new people not being involved in a church in 5+ years. As I have led our assimilation class, when guests share about their experience and why they decided to join our church, most people mention the impact Guest Services had on them. From my conversations with our guests, here are four of the biggest reasons why Guest Services plays a crucial role on Sunday mornings.
Communicates “You Belong Here”
We had a guest attend our church for the first time and as she walked up to our New Here Tent, she was shaking with fear. She had not been to a church in a long time, had been through some really rough years, and knew she needed a fresh start, but was terrified about how she may be accepted.
As our team welcomed her, gave her a gift, and walked her inside, her fear was replaced with gratitude. The next week she came back with a friend. The following week, she returned and accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. The next week, she attended our assimilation class where she told our team, “I belong in this church! And I have never been in a church where I belong before.” (Whew! That’s still my favorite quote of the year!) She has now joined our Guest Services team so she can help others the same way that she was.
I share this story, because we have no idea the emotions that people carry when they arrive in our parking lot. Many people struggle with shame and guilt and wonder how they will be received. Some struggle with anxiety as they enter a new place and meet new people. Some may be bitter or a skeptic towards God. Others have become cynical from previous negative church experiences. Or one of the most common for us is the apathetic boyfriend who got drug to church by his girlfriend.
Regardless of what emotion comes with each guest, our team exists to help greet that person and quickly affirm that waking up and coming to church was a great choice! As we greet people and get to know their name, they leave not just knowing a pithy phrase from a message or a catchy chorus of a song, but also the name of a person. And as I have led our assimilation class over the last three years, about 7 out of every 10 people attribute a sense of belonging for the reason they chose our church.
Helps Eliminate Distractions
Throughout the week, the worship team and the pastor prepare many hours for Sunday morning because worship and preaching are the two places where The Gospel is most clearly communicated. Unfortunately, many studies show that in the first 7-10 minutes, a guest has chosen if they are going to come back next week or not. If you are like me, you are probably a little skeptical to this statistic, but think about the what it is like for a first-time guest who hasn’t been to church in years.
You’re at a place that you have never been before, so you are probably lost. You’re at an event where everyone knows each other except you, so you probably feel excluded. You dropped your kids off with strangers, so you are probably anxious. You most likely sat by yourself, so you feel lonely. And who knows if you found the most important things for the morning, like the coffee or the restroom.
Before the first guitar is strummed or the first word is preached, there are so many things working against the messenger. A new guest is so distracted that much of the service falls on deaf ears. Guest Services looks to remove those bad experiences and replace them with positive ones. It is our hope that we can remove distractions so that the new person can fully engage in the service and encounter Jesus.
Creates Expectancy For The Service
When I think on my spiritual journey growing up, most of my meaningful moments occurred at a camp. This is largely because I approached my weeks at camp with an expectancy for God to move. Though this is largely a decision the individual must make, your environment plays a big part in this. At camp, counselors always greeted us and would rave about how great of a week was going to be. This along with many other factors influenced my expectancy which postured my heart in a place of readiness for God to move.
Now, I am not suggesting Guest Services do cheer tunnels on Sunday mornings (If so, I would be church shopping the next week!), but a vibrant presence outside communicates the importance of the morning and helps cultivate an expectant heart amongst church members and guests. One of our Guest Services core values is “Have Fun.” As we laugh, play music, and greet people, we hope to communicate the message, “You are going to love the service this morning!”
Demonstrates Off-Stage What We Declare On-Stage
From the pulpit you will hear the preacher communicate about certain things Christ has called us to like hospitality to the outsider, acceptance, love, laying down our rights, and service. Our preachers do a great job at communicating that message clearly, but often our actions speak louder than our words. The disciple John affirms that when he wrote, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35).”
What does it communicate when you are new to a place and no one acknowledges you? What does it communicate when the single mom has to park at the back of the lot and carry her heavy car seat in herself? Or what does it say when you attend the service and people are speaking with lingo you don’t understand?
Contrastingly, what does it say when you arrive on site to smiling faces who point you to the best parking spots. When you get out of your car, they help you with your kids and bring you to a tent where they check you in and give you a gift. As you are escorted in, you are shown all the important places. You sit in the service where there isn’t insider lingo and things are explained in a way that you understand. And as you leave, people tell you they hope to see you next week.
As a person leaves, they may not remember the message they heard, but they will remember how they felt. They may not agree with the Gospel message yet, but they can’t deny how loving the people were, how servant hearted they were, and how much hospitality they showed. They probably forgot the biblical names from the passage, but they won’t forget the name of the person who met them at the tent. Though they can’t put words to it yet, what they experienced was the message that we declare on-stage was demonstrated off-stage. It is for this reason, that before we start our mornings, our teams remind each other that the sermon starts in the parking lot.