- Thou Shalt Be Friendly. You think that this is a given, but you many people tell me that they have visited churches that are not friendly. People can enter and leave without someone greeting them or even smiling at them–it really happens! I visited a church one time and the pastor passed me three times without stopping once to greet me. This was a small church, so it wasn’t like he wouldn’t know whether I was a visitor or a member. Be friendly!
- Thou Shalt Communicate Kindness. Greet guests with a firm handshake, open posture, and smile. It is not enough to be friendly–thought that’s a first step. Ask the names of guests and try to use their names in the course of the conversation. Don’t forget to introduce yourself too!
- Thou Shalt Be Mindful of Your Surroundings. Pay attention to who is near you in the pews. You are the first line of greeting when a guest comes, and if you see someone new in your section of the church, follow the first two commandments, then let the nearest staff member know so we can do it too!
- Thou Shalt Invite Guests to Something Significant. How do we get guests to stay and participate at church? Invite them to lunch or coffee. Church is not like social media, where you check in and out of people’s lives at your convenience. We are the church and we are to make disciples, so guests need to feel a part of it to start that journey. Invite people somewhere: to coffee, to lunch, to Sunday School, or to a gathering. It may be inconvenient, but too bad. Someone a long time ago went out of their way to welcome you, so now its your turn to do the same for others.
- Thou Shalt Help with the Children. If guests have young children, be kind and accommodating to the family. Point out where the restrooms and nursery are, ask the names and ages of the children, have conversations with the children–they need to feel a sense of belonging too. Get one of the staff to introduce the children to our children and youth leaders. If the children are vocal or playful during worship, play with them silently–don’t worry about the sermon, you can catch it online at home. For now, focus on the children–they are miracles, each and every one, and you may be the first of Christ’s ambassadors they’ve ever met!!
- Thou Shalt Not Ask Too Many Questions. When you welcome a guest, don’t ask too many questions. For instance, don’t say, “Oh, and is this your mother?” because you may get the response: “NO! THAT’S MY WIFE!” If there is a single guest, don’t ask if he or she is married or what not. Follow through on the fourth commandment, and then you may–may!–eventually get the emotional permission to ask probing questions.
- Thou Shalt Not Comment on Appearances (except for children). People love to hear praises and compliments about their children, but please refrain from commenting on the appearances of adults. It is not appropriate to say, “You are very pretty,” or worse, “Your wife is very pretty.” If you want to be nice, be broad–“You have a beautiful family.”
- Thou Shalt Not be Culturally Insensitive. Kristina and I once visited a primarily African American congregation, and the first thing the greeter said was, “Wow, we don’t get visitors like you here often.” We were not impressed and we never returned. If a guest visits who may be an ethnic, gendered, or racial minority, don’t make it awkward. Don’t say, “We don’t get a lot of your kind here,” or, “Wow, it’s nice to have you…so, as a Mexican, what do you think of that comment about immigration that Trump said the other day?” or, “Hey, you’re the perfect person to ask this: What do you think about those Confederate statues being removed from public parks?” All of these questions are either racist or bigoted in one form or fashion. Other questions can be misogynistic, so just treat everyone the same and be sensitive.
- Thou Shalt Not Use Off-Color Humor. First impressions are everything, and people may not share the same kind of humor as you. Do not try to use humor to break any tension or awkwardness in the greeting. Be yourself, but just be sensitive (see Commandment 8). So if you feel inclined to make a joke, just don’t. Be warm and friendly, but be professional. The other day, someone lamented that they were afraid to joke around anymore because of all of the sexual harassment suits in the news lately: “Everyone is so sensitive these days,” he said. Yes, that’s right–the truth is that that kind of humor has always been wrong–the fact that no one is laughing anymore is a good and godly thing, trust me. Locker room talk is not appropriate for the Christ-following Christian.
- Thou Shalt Not Make Assumptions. Do not assume that because a guest looks or talks a certain way, that you have them “pegged.” People who visit churches are taking a risk, and there is a level of vulnerability we need to respect. One of the ways we respect strangers is to give them the room to surprise us and perchance become our best friends. That is what it means to be an inclusive, welcoming church: We welcome strangers into our sacred space–with all our own strangeness thrown in the mix–only to become fellow pilgrims on the journey of faith.Since we all do not start out in the same place, our journeys vary, but as God’s creatures made in God’s image, we can all learn from each other. Plus, we don’t want to become “That church!”
By Orrin Morris
Some of us find joy by taking time from our busy lives to observe the fascinating creation God has provided. From the wildflower for today we can observe the great diversity of God’s creation and how we are enriched by that. Diversity as a given in nature should lead us to recognize that the diversity of cultures is God’s way of enriching our lives socially, also.
White snakeroot fits the “sinister” image of the season around Halloween. Imagine the reactions of a group of young children approaching a door around which hangs a large glowing white snake. That would definitely be a spooky scene!
There is much more to consider about this wildflower. Not only does it have a sinister name, but it is highly toxic when one drinks milk from cows that have eaten snakeroot. Cattlemen in the east could not allow their cattle to range as freely as originally done in the west because of this and similar toxic plants. One writer noted that Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from drinking “toxic” milk.
The white snakeroot grows to a height of 3 feet. The stem is stiff and the leaves are opposites. The fuzzy white flowers are small, less that 1/4- inch wide, and appear in relatively flat-topped clusters, as pictured. The leaves are coarse and sharply toothed.
White snakeroot can be found in the woods and thickets from late summer and until frost. The Native Americans used the juice from the root to counteract the poison from snake bites, thus the common name, snakeroot. (Adams and Casstevens)
The extravagant abundance of wildflowers is a mere hint of the abundant grace God desires to pour upon us. “But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you? (Matthew 6:30).”
Finally, the delicate beauty of wildflowers is a symbol for us of the beauty God wishes to create in those who practice what Jesus taught when He said “Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).”
By Rev. Amy Butler of the Riverside Church in New York, New York. Rev. Butler writes for her blog, Talk With the Preacher.
For some time I’ve been of the conviction that cultivating diverse communities of faith is critical to living the gospel.
Some tell me creating a diverse community is just not a reality for their church; the community surrounding the church is too homogenous. I think that claim is flatly untrue. The bottom line is that creating diverse communities is an option for all of us, because each human is distinct and unique.
It’s a natural human instinct to gravitate toward people who seem most like us, but learning to value and cultivate diversity in our faith communities is worth the time and effort. That’s not to say creating a diverse community is easy.
In fact, to create a healthy culture of diversity within a congregation, the system must be trained to tolerate a higher level of discomfort as stasis. That is, members of diverse communities tolerate a little more discomfort than they would if they were members of a community where everyone shares a similar life situation, where everyone looks and thinks in generally the same way.
In its best expression healthy congregational diversity can work to create a culture in which people are constantly being invited to stretch and grow, to enlarge their view of the world, and to consistently expand their understanding of the kingdom of God. The realization that God’s love for the whole world extends beyond my own safe and limited view of the world is a transformative gift, a critical part of ongoing discipleship. And when diversity is valued and managed well, it’s indicative of a high level of trust in a congregation.
But like most things in life, there’s a downside to diversity [Read more on Rev. Butler’s blog here…]