This is the week in which churches all over the country will experience an influx of visitors. It may only last for one night. It may last for a week or two. It may even carry over into the New Year. Whatever the case, it is evident that many nontraditional church attenders will be coming through the doors of our churches with hurts, needs, and probably many preconceived notions about what church and Christianity actually is.
Is your church ready for the seasonal visitors?
In various congregations that I have visited and even belonged to at one time or another, it seemed that the general feeling by many "regular attenders" was that these outsiders were somewhat of an inconvenience to the people that "put their time in" week in and week out. Unfortunately, some will see the shortage of parking, the crowded foyer, the lack of seating and the occupied pastors as annoyances to endure.
Don't get me wrong. I am not pointing a finger at anyone in particular, except for maybe myself. I too am guilty of rolling my eyes at a crammed parking lot. I have used bulletins, jackets and whatever else that I could find to try to "save" good seats for my family and friends on Christmas Eve. I have felt "holier than thou" when seeing all of the families that only make it to church once or twice each year.
As a "regular attender" of my church, My attitude needs to be one of a servant. I should be going out of my way to make room for the seasonal visitor rather than worrying about the comfort of myself and my family, or worseusing their attendance as a reason to puff up my pride. Unfortunately I know that I am not alone.
Of course logistical concerns are very important to consider when it comes to this question. Visitors have to have a place to park, a place to sit, a safe place for their kids and an opportunity to see, hear and experience God through the service. When it comes to the readiness of the church for seasonal visitors, however, I think there is an even more important factor to consider. Is your congregation ready to serve these newcomers?
Many churches throughout the country advertise in their front yards and on their walls that every member is a minister. Regardless of denomination, I think that as the American Church we have to foster this attitude to make a difference in the world today, especially with tailor-made opportunities like Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Like most things in the church, this has to start with the pastors.
Through servant leadership, through challenging messages and through truly loving their congregations as Christ does, pastors can cultivate this type of attitude change. The rest is up to the congregation though. Christ has called us to so much more and died for so much more than our comfort. We need to love Him and love people the way that He commanded us to do.
Are we ready for Christmas this year? Is it ever really possible to be "ready"? My prayer is that as the church we will be ready to embrace the seasonal visitors with the open arms of Christ to the extent that they will no longer be seasonal visitors, but fully devoted Christ followers enamored by His love for them.