So, you've summoned up the courage and asked that neighbor, co-worker, friend to church and they said "yes". Whew! That's done. Wait, what??? They said yes!! Now what???
Now you really start thinking about what this means. Maybe things like:
How will I make sure they enjoy themselves?
What if they "no-show"?
How do I make sure the pastor preaches a good, but not too controversial, sermon?
What if they never want to come again and now it's awkward?
What if they keep coming -- do I really want to see them more than I already do?
How do I respond to questions I don't know how to answer?
What if they ask me questions I do know how to answer and we get into a philosophical argument??
Rest assured, some of these things you might be able to influence, but mostly can't control, so relax. However, there are things you can do to prepare both the invitee and yourself for the visit, so don't relax just yet.
But first a little secret. When Pastor Keith asked me to write on this topic, I jumped at the opportunity, but then quickly said my own "Wait, what?" I spent a lot of time thinking about the topic, but could only come up with a list of the painfully obvious stuff:
Introduce them to the pastor
Bring them to the Connection Station for a gift bag
Show them where the nursery is, the bathroom, the coffee
Introduce them to folks
Go out to breakfast beforehand or lunch after
Did I mention, introduce them to the pastor?
I looked at the list and felt discouraged. I head up the hospitality committee for cryin' out loud. People will be expecting more than that. I should do better! Everyone will say "duh". And I almost gave up and handed the blog request back to Pastor Keith. But that's when it hit me...
I was trying too hard and losing sight of the goal. I had to remind myself, "not that much is within my power to control so relax". So, I closed my eyes, quieted my brain, and listened. Here's what I heard...
Remember what you are inviting them to -- not just a one hour church service, not a building, not to meet a group of people, but to come into the presence of God, see something that is of vast importance to you and those around you, and to get a glimpse of the joy we share in the community of the Holy Spirit.
Make the most of the service -- make sure you are enjoying the service, ready your mind for the experience, be open to the possibilities and relax - it will show and send a huge message. Not just to the person you invited, but to those your church brothers and sisters invited as well.
Make the unknown, known -- It's less unnerving to get a glimpse of what you've been invited to. Tell them about the current sermon series, share the website with them, give them a copy of last week's bulletin, ask if they have any questions. You'll have to tailor this according to your guest, but don't assume and just launch into a spiel--find out what they need, what they want to know AND what they might want to share with you.
Give people a heads up -- Let pastoral staff, connection staff and a few friends know about your guest's visit ahead of time, so they are prepared. Getting a sense of, "You were expected and we were looking forward to you being with us" can make a huge impact.
Do a little matchmaking -- Think about your invitee, what do you know about them. Now think about your church family. Who might have similar interests or backgrounds -- do they love dogs, yoga, fishing... Do they have college kids, are they single, widowed...? Intentionally seek to introduce folks with common ground. If you are not sure who that might be, feel free to contact the office and ask (we have a lot of information from a recent survey that may be of some help). If you're a part of a small group, this could be a great opportunity to introduce your guest to your group members and possibly lay the groundwork for future involvement.
Let them know they can bring friends too -- We have invite cards at the connection station, and while they are intended for you to use to invite people, think about giving your guest a few prior to their visit, and encourage them to feel free to invite friends and family of their own. This may level the playing field and may provide comfort to the guest, knowing that they can bring a friend for "support" as well.
Switch it up -- When you enter the sanctuary, instead of just sitting in your regular spot, or asking them where they'd like to sit, intentionally sit next to other members -- another way to ensure introductions and opportunity to ease into conversation.
Embrace opportunities to learn and grow -- If faced with something you don't know how to respond to, you now have an opportunity to learn something yourself, and a good reason to continue conversations with your church guest beyond Sunday. Run with it, reach out to pastoral staff or other members who you know are more versed on the topic -- create an opportunity to learn something together and create fledgling relationships. Go for it.
Remember what it's like to be new -- Remember you come here and "do" the service on a regular basis, but this may be all new to your guest. Whether they are new to the Wesleyan way of doing things, or new to church in general, or even new to Christianity -- remember the obvious stuff to you, may not be obvious to them. Watch your "church-speak" or "Wesleyanisms". Take appropriate moments to ask if they have questions.
Listen lovingly -- If conversation does turn to areas of disagreement, listen thoughtfully, but chose carefully how to respond. Maybe taking a step back, letting them express their thoughts freely, and leaving it at that for the moment, is a good first step in future open, honest back-and-forth communication. Feel free to again lean on your church family and pastoral staff for guidance.
Don't give up -- Finally, if they "no show" acknowledge it, let them know you missed them, but leave it at that for the time being. HOWEVER, do make a reminder for yourself to ask them again in a few weeks, don't just give up!
In the end, as you bring a guest to church, it's not just about what steps you take for them, but what steps you take for you too. So, don't try so hard to get it "right". Rather, close your eyes, quiet your brain, and listen -- listen to your heart, listen to your friend, listen to God. And relax, you (and God) got this...