Every church I know of holds weekend worship services. Most of them hold at least 52 a year. Nearly all of them will have visitors show up, even if by accident.
What we don’t often realize is the incredible anxiety most of them are feeling as they walk through our doors.
Their minds are racing with questions.
The answer to those questions will most likely determine whether or not they ever come back.
For some, it may even determine where they spend eternity!
Here’s my unofficial list of a first-time guest’s questions:
1. Is the roof going to cave in on me? Or sometimes stated, “Am I going to get struck by lightning?”
Many of our guests are feeling the incredible contrast between their current lifestyle and what they know God wants from them. Because of this, they think that God and them are on the outs and that He’s probably ticked off at them.
2. Is anyone going to acknowledge me?
This is human nature. Whether we are visiting a church or a restaurant or a store, when we walk into an organization we believe to be customer-driven, we expect someone to speak to us. In fact, we get weirded out if NO ONE even tries to acknowledge our presence.
3. Are my kids going to be safe?
For many of them, their most frequent exposure to churches and children has been news stories of pedophiles violating kids. They’ve taught their kids all their life to be wary of strangers and now they’re not only completely surrounded by them, but you’re asking them to “trust” you.
4. Is the message going to be boring or confusing?
Most of the unchurched do have some church background. For the vast majority their only exposure to preaching was a negative one. They think of the Bible as totally irrelevant to normal people and preaching as either a remedy for insomnia or some ranting lunatic who thinks volume is a motivational tool.
5. Am I going to be dressed right?
Have you ever gone to an event either overdressed or underdressed? Nothing can be more embarrassing and uncomfortable. Since church attendance is not a routine in their life, it only stands to reason that they probably do not know what the dress code is and they’re looking around to see if they stand out.
6. Will I know where to go?
Do you remember your first day of middle/high school or college? You’re given a class schedule but almost never a map. That’s the time when you figure out that clear signage can be a life saver! After a few weeks, you never even glance at those signs again, but the first timer views them as life or death!
7. Who can I ask a question?
Even the clearest signage doesn’t answer all your questions. There are some things you just need to get from someone in the know. A first-time guest is too scared to just start randomly interrogating people. They need to be able to easily identify someone who seems to be a designated question answerer.
8. Are they going to do anything weird?
Going to church for most visitors is like visiting a foreign country. The culture is so different that I don’t know what’s going to happen and I’m terrified I’ll be put in an uncomfortable situation. They know Christians are different, they’re just hoping they’re not psycho!
9. Am I going to have to sing or clap?
How many environments does the average American go to that they’re asked to sing out loud and clap along with? Exactly! It’s funny that we like to measure worship by crowd participation, but then we neglect to measure our evangelistic effectiveness by the lack of crowd participation. Just saying.
10. Is there any hope?
Finally, and most importantly, they are secretly wondering if there is hope for them. They’re praying that second chances are real. They’re hoping that God really can fix broken hearts and homes.
Every church leader should be wrestling with how they are answering those questions.