In this series of posts, we will consider the practices of other churches that share some similarities with the OPC, though also some significant differences. With some of the examples (ten in number), we may see some ways in which their practice is inconsistent with our doctrinal commitments, but also hopefully learn from these brothers and sisters in Christ. In particular, we hope to learn more effective ways to welcome new people into the language and culture of our worship, practice, and life as a church.
Time Before Worship: I’ve noticed a trend. When I am visiting OPC (and similar) churches, almost without fail, the elders come out together from a back room at the moment the worship service is beginning. When I visit an Acts 29/Missional style church, after I’m greeted (by greeters) and find my seat, I’m often greeted by at least one person before the service. I’ve noticed that is often an officer in the church. Probably most popular is that it’s one of the pastors. That is striking.
Initial Reformed Reaction: We have a high view of worship and it is appropriate that our elders are praying together for the church and the worship. This is one of our cultural differences from other styles of churches.
Principle That Transfers: Of course, there is no argument or question on the importance of worship and the elders praying, but a loving prod to consider how that relates to welcoming visitors. Presumably, our elders are some of the best people to welcome visitors—more aware of how to greet people, more outward focused on a Sunday, not prone to hanging in their own niche, can answer questions, and know the right things to say. And most are sequestered at a critical moment to greet visitors. I’ve actually even seen an announcement in the bulletin on multiple occasions for the Lord’s Supper to speak to an elder before the service and they aren’t around. That, surely, is a reveal of our expectations for visitors.
So do we give up praying? Not needed at all. But let’s be aware of the circumstances and some options. Visitors generally don’t arrive more than 10 minutes early. Could you pray a few minutes earlier and have all the elders and pastor out mingling for the 10 minutes prior to worship? Maybe you have one rotating elder not come to the elder prayer and he spends time out looking for visitors to greet. If there’s absolutely no way to do it, then maybe deacons or a well-chosen member could be intentional about greeting people individually and having a brief conversation.
The bottom line is that the right people welcoming visitors in the moments before (and after) worship is one important way to provide a “warm welcome” and it’s probably wise to include our elders and pastor in that, barring some very unique circumstance. If we are intentional, we probably don’t have to change or lose anything that we do except maybe a 10 or 15 minute shift by praying and finishing earlier than our current practice.