Apologies for the blog-silence . . . illness over, it is time to post again. The next couple of Sundays are prime “visitor” days in church world. It is easy to talk as if we just need to preach the gospel well and we’ll see a massive amount of life change. Realistically this is not the trend most years. Without denying the possibility of immediate and radical life change, here are a few brief thoughts:
1. Visitors have some expectations of the message that should be met. They are almost certainly coming to church because it is Christmas season. Make sure the message is relevant to the reasonable expectation that Christians celebrate Christmas.
2. Visitors have some expectations of the message that should be shattered. They may well expect the message to be antiquated, almost fairy-tale like and safe. What an opportunity for them to be surprised that the Bible is actually interesting, and profoundly relevant, and disarmingly engaging.
3. Visitors should feel lovingly pulled by something spiritual, not pestered by desperate church people and “retention strategies.” Of course it is wise to think through greeting procedures in the church venue, from the front, etc. It would be strange for visitors not to feel warmly welcome to return beyond Christmas. It might be sensible to have a follow-up plan in place (a bit late if this hasn’t been considered before now, so don’t do an emergency version now). But if people feel like everything is tailored to win their attendance (too many comments, excessive announcements to that end, perceived manipulation or pressure in the preaching, etc.), well, how would you feel if you were visiting?
The next two Sundays are weighty ones for preachers. Extra busy in church and for family (including our own). Perhaps a strain on creativity when you’ve been preaching Christmas in the same church for years and feel the pressure of a limited number of passages and “angles” left to take.
But let’s not lose sight of the great opportunity here. People don’t expect uniqueness. In fact, if you are genuinely excited by the coming of Christ, gripped by the engaging Word of God, and effective in communicating both its meaning and relevance to all our lives today . . . then many people will be genuinely, and positively, surprised!