I once heard a pastor comment on how his congregation “speaks their own language.” The key to becoming accepted into this body of believers is to understand and use the language of the congregation. I started thinking about this bold claim and was a little indignant to say the least. I began to question whether or not this man really understood the people in our church. What was he talking about? There was no secret handshake nor was their unspoken ways that we excluded those who would not follow us in our worship.
Well, I began to think a little bit more about what this pastor said and began to realize that he was not very far off the mark. For instance, many of our congregations say the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) in our worship. It has become a tradition that our congregation recites the prayer from memory and assumes that we will hear most of the voices around us saying the text as one body.
What about those who visit who have never been in worship? This is their first time in a church in years. Maybe there are those who have never set foot in a church. How can they join in with us without being considered the “other?” It is our task to include all to participate in worship. If that is the case, we need to make sure that we have resources by which all people may fully participate.
How about the prayers of the congregation? Once again, we are challenged to include the entire body of believers while continuing our established traditions that transcend the word community and develop our sense of family. We come together to celebrate the risen Christ. In what ways do we lift up our prayers in worship that seem to exclude new comers?
By suggesting that “first time visitors come back so that they may feel more at home” is a way in which the issue has been previously addressed. Unfortunately, that does not work in our modern age. Many times, we have one shot to develop a complete sense of inclusivity in our churches. Is it possible to provide a platform by which everyone present on a Sunday morning, members and visitors alike, will be able to fully share in the good news of salvation?
I struggle as a pastor to provide the space in which all are welcome. I utilize media and worship aides to assist everyone who worships with us, but I am still afraid that there are some portions of our worship experience that excludes people who have never participated in our particular church. The main idea that I want people to take with them is that the Gospel of Christ is for all and not just for those who finally get the language and the unwritten rules of our congregation.
I am not suggesting that we eradicate those moments in worship that remind us of who we are and what it means to be a part of a particular congregation. I believe that tradition is very important in helping us to establish our identity. Liturgy serves to allow us to feel a sense of belonging and a space by which we can call a particular place of worship our home. I want to honor our history by providing others who visit us the opportunity to call my space their home. The central message being that Christ came for all and not just those who pray and worship just like us.
As you attend your church this coming weekend be fully aware of times in your service that may appear exclusive to newcomers. Sit next to someone who appears to be in worship with you for the first time. As the service continues be that source by which they can be made more familiar with your church’s practices and customs. Be the one who is that welcoming spirit that delivers the good news of salvation that all are welcome to the table of God.