I just returned from a place where I was working with a new church start from one of the “confessional” churches… one of those that, by and large, practices a formal liturgy. In this case, the church had relaxed the liturgy a bit, but to those not raised in a smells-and-bells church, even their relaxed liturgy was a lot.
I showed them the “Mr. Bean Goes to Church” bit. I tried to explain that, even though their version of liturgy seemed like liturgy-lite to them, someone with limited or no church experience like Mr. Bean would be pretty confused and perhaps even embarrassed.
They really didn’t seem to be buying it when it struck me. I asked if anyone had been to a Pentecostal/Holiness church and a couple people raised their hands. They shared that they were “nervous,” “frightened,” and “confused,” and none of them wanted to go back.
That’s very much how it feels for someone who’s never been to church … or never been even to an informal liturgical worship service, let alone a formal one. (A Pentecostal who’s never missed a Sunday service in their life might feel the same!)
I was checking out of my hotel the next morning when the cheery Gen-X desk clerk made a spiritual conversation opening. “So, what brought you to town?” I told her which church I was working with. “Ever heard of it?” She shook her head and I replied, “Well, that’s why I was there!” She asked what kind of church it was and I told her the brand affiliation. “My grandparents went to that kind of church.” Then she confided, “But I’ve never been to church.” She shared a bit about her lack of church experience and asked some telling questions.
The long and short of it was, she asked if she would be welcome.
It caught me off guard. On the one hand, the church members were friendly and nice. On the other hand, if this woman showed up the next Sunday she’d be just as lost and uncomfortable as Mr. Bean – or a lifelong church member who shared their experience at a Pentecostal prayer and worship service.
I passed her name and contact information on to the pastor, but not without some hesitation. What if she showed up, her experience was “Huh?!?”, and she decided that that’s what church is like … and never went back anywhere? That’s not an unlikely scenario … it happens more regularly than most well churched folk surmise. How many times have you voluntarily returned to that Pentecostal or Liturgical or Foreign Language or weird brand of church where you were confused or frightened or embarrassed?
Question: How would you make a liturgical service more guest-friendly without watering down the liturgy? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.