3 Keys to Welcoming Visitors

1-3-welcome-keys

By Warren Anderson

On Sunday morning you want to be hospitable to those who enter our worship experiences, but don’t yet share our faith. Right? But you have strong (and correct) feelings that you ought not to sacrifice “Truth” in the process. What to do? Here are three suggestions to start the conversation:

1. Simplify your rhetoric.
In an homage to Bob Webber soon after he died, Joan Huyser-Honig celebrated Webber’s focus on the “embodiment of God’s narrative,” the kind of “hospitality that inspires worship committees to look at beloved liturgical elements and ask whether they’re too complicated for people to connect with.” Practically speaking, “Do whatever you can do to simplify liturgy so you make ancient things accessible in our cultural context,” suggests Darrell Harris, chaplain at Webber’s Institute for Worship Studies.

For example, for years now worship leaders have been told not to assume we can toss out words like sanctification and propitiation and expect everyone in attendance to follow us. Good start. But how often do we suppose that those who don’t know the Lord regularly use words like holiness or salvation? And even if they have a general sense of the denotative—or “dictionary”—definitions of those words, can we really assume they understand their connotative meanings—all the specific, sociological associations that come with the words—in our American evangelical context? Most of us spend plenty of time, rightly so, honing our praise bands’ sounds. Spending a bit more time thinking seriously about transitional commentary could make a big difference where hospitality to unbelievers is concerned. For further reading: Worship Words (Rienstra and Rienstra).

2. Choose songs that are easy to sing.
If you’re serious about creating a welcoming environment for those unfamiliar with our Christian culture, you have to make it easy for them to sing along with us during the congregational-singing component of our corporate worship. Most of our contemporary worship songwriters have covered point 1, above, sufficiently, but even when they do, do our interpretations of their songs help our cause? For instance, when Chris Tomlin, with his lovely lyric tenor, records every other song in B major, do we feel compelled to sing those songs in the same key, or do we modulate down—sometimes a couple of whole steps—to make his wonderful songs relatively easy for the vast majority of folks to sing? Do we pay attention to things like syncopation in the rhythm, the use of metrical feet in the lyrics, and musical ornamentations that often work a whole lot better on a solo recording than they do in the context of corporate worship? Doing so could help those who don’t listen to K-LOVE stand a decent chance of participating in worship, at least at a basic level. For further reading: The Art of Worship (Scheer).

 3. Let Scripture do the work of Scripture.
A few years back, frequent Worship Leader contributor Constance Cherry did an intriguing study on the percentage of time the reading of Scripture occupied in worship services across America (“My House Shall Be a House of … Announcements”). Sadly, she found that Scripture reading in contemporary worship services (across a host of different denominations) accounted on average for a mere 2% of the service. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah (55:11), our Lord said, “I send [my word] out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it” (NLT). If worship evangelism is our goal, let’s elevate Scripture to a place of prominence above all of our well-intended songs and statements. “He must increase, but I must decrease,” indeed. For further reading: Worship in the Shape of Scripture (Mitman).

 

Along with being the Worship Pastor at the Elgin Evangelical Free Church in Elgin, IL, Warren Anderson teaches communication arts and worship arts classes and serves as Dean of the Chapel at Judson University.

 

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    4 comments on “3 Keys to Welcoming Visitors

    1. There’s some good things here for us to be more sensitive to as we lead and plan, thanks! I honestly don’t think these ideas are limited to helping make visitors or unbelievers feel more welcome, I think they are also helpful for connecting better with the diverse group of people in our congregations who are believers. I agree wholeheartedly with #3 and even before this article had been sensing the Holy Spirit telling me (and the other worship leaders at our church) to include more scripture reading in our worship services. Again this is just good to do in general, not just for the sake of unbelieving visitors, but because this is what God wants us to do when we gather in His name, declare His word and truth and set our hearts and minds on things above and attach ourselves to the collective mission He has given us as God’s people.

      One thing I would say is to remember that songs and scripture can often (and should often) be intertwined, meaning that there are a lot of songs that help us to memorize scripture or grasp a biblical concept. That has been the regular practice of God’s people for thousands of years, whether in chant or hymn or contemporary song. So yes scripture should be prominent above our songs and statements, and it’s definitely important to have people do scripture readings and recite scripture together, but at the same time let’s be careful of that statement, it almost makes it sound like songs and scripture are separate from each other. Songs can actually be a part of getting more scripture into people’s hearts and minds (and in many cases may be a more effective way of doing so than just trying to get people to memorize a particular text by reading it over and over again). To do that though we have to be more careful and intentional about what songs we choose and not just go for what’s most catchy or simple or has the coolest grooves and guitar parts.

    2. Firstly, I prefer the word “guest” rather than “visitor” to refer to someone new in the house of God. It is, in my opinion, a more welcoming term.
      Secondly, although Chris (Tomlin) may record his song in “B”, I feel no compulsion to have to follow suit and expect the congregation to reach those high vocal melodies. For many years I have changed keys on any song that has a melody line above an E in the tenor or soprano.

    3. I appreciate the comments in this article.
      For # 3, I am wondering how others incorporate scripture. I received comments lately that the time I took to look up and read scripture between songs appeared to be hard on older people having to stand longer than just for the singing part. I love sharing scripture but want to be sensitive to people as well.
      Any insights would be welcome.

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