What to Do If Your Church Has a SECRET Menu (Hint: Drop It ASAP)

Things we say and do that our regulars take for granted, but can be confusing and frustrating to newcomers.

Every church has a secret menu. Things we say and do that our regulars take for granted, but can be confusing and frustrating to newcomers.

Here’s an example of how frustrating a secret menu can be.

I was at a Starbucks this week when the man in front of me ordered a short latte. The employee responded, “That’s a tall latte,” causing this exact exchange between them.


I leaned in and told the frustrated customer “tall is the shortest one they have.” He thanked me. The Starbucks employee looked perturbed.

I posted this on Facebook and got quick responses from friends about how funny and frustrating that sounded. Then Jonny Craig, from 200Churches.com, commented, “As a former Starbucks employee, I am appalled! Short is, in fact, a size option! (It’s 8 oz.)”

It seems Starbucks has a secret menu. So secret that the employee in question didn’t even know about it. In addition to the short option, they also have a super-size called a Trenta.

The Problem With Secret Menus at Churches

I was telling some fellow pastors about this Starbucks episode and wondered out loud why restaurants have secret menus. “There’s a restaurant chain in California named In-N-Out that has secret menu items, too,” I told them. “I guess they do it to make regulars feel special, since they know the insider lingo.”

“Sounds like some churches,” one pastor responded.

Yep. That’s exactly what it sounds like, I thought.

Some Church Secret Menu Items

Here are some secret menu items I’ve seen in some churches. Insider info that church members know, but guests need to have explained to them.

Where’s the front door?

What should I wear?

How do I find the restrooms, nursery, etc?

Can I sit anywhere?

Am I expected to give something in the offering?

How long will the service last?

Is communion just for members, or for everyone?

Why are we singing?

Why are people raising their hands?

Why are people lighting candles?

When do we sit, stand, kneel … ?

Why do we sit, stand, kneel … ?

What’s an Ecclesiastes and how can I get a Bible to look it up like everyone else is doing?

The pastor just said, “See Chris Lucas if you want to sign up for a home group.” Who is Chris Lucas?

What do terms like “substitutionary atonement” mean?

Do It, but Explain It

This article is not a plea to change the way your church worships. Just explain it. Especially the things your church does that may be distinct to your denomination or faith tradition.

And use every means available. You can never overexplain. Here are a few examples.

1. Print an order of service in plain English (click here for an example from my church).

2. Explain things as they happen.

3. Use hallway signs.

4. Have an FAQ section on your website.

5. Train ushers and greeters to answer questions.

6. Use your video projector.

We shouldn’t feel the need to change who we are, especially on matters of theology. But one of the obligations of being a good host is to let people know why we’re doing what we’re doing. And how they can participate.

Be who you are. Worship, minister and serve according to your conscience, your theology and your faith traditions. But don’t push insiders away by keeping the decoder ring to yourself.

Karl Vaters
Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of NewSmallChurch.com, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors.