I remember walking around at a football game once because I couldn’t find a place to sit. You can’t just shoehorn your butt between people you don’t really know, so I scanned the stands for familiar faces. I thought I’d just walk across the front of the bleachers, sneaking surreptitious glances into the crowd, but it was no use. I couldn’t find anyone except a kid in the band and there was no way I was sitting in the middle of the tuba section.
So I went to the snack stand, hoping to see someone on the way. No luck. So, popcorn and Mt. Dew in hand, I headed back and walked the gauntlet in the opposite direction. Still nothing. After a couple more trips, I was desperate: I offered a few M & M’s to some kid if he’d pretend to know me and sit with me, but some lady came and pulled him away really quickly. I think he’d forgotten to do his homework before the game or something and was in really big trouble.
It’s awkward to be part of a crowd and still feel out of place. Like a platypus in a gym full of penguins… what exactly am I supposed to do? How should I stand? What do I do with my hands? Wait, I’m a platypus, why do I have hands? Since Easter is here, attendance at weekend church services will swell across the country. “Regular seats” will be taken, parking lots will be full, and awkward moments will be plentiful. In order to isolate the uneasiness to just this 1 week (or maybe two if Christmas isn’t on a Sunday), and in case you’ve completely forgotten why we’re even here, I offer these suggestions to ensure the guests who take our seats and park in our spaces won’t be back next week:
- Take the good seats. Regular attenders have a huge advantage here: You know exactly when the service starts. That means you can get there early and take the seats in the back. Church isn’t like a football game or a play or something. You want the back rows – the outside chair in the back rows if you’re really going for the ultimate in church chair positioning dominance. When they show up late and have to make the walk of Sunday tardiness shame to the front rows… it just sets the tone for a morning of stifling awkwardness that will make your church the last place they ever want to be again. What if some visitor actually shows up early enough to get a good seat? Just tell them that’s your regular seat and stare at them blankly until they move. They won’t be back anytime soon.
- Holy Kiss. “Excuse me, sir… Paul (“He was an Apostle, you know.”) instructs us in 4 different Epistles (“That’s how we say ‘letters’ here.”) to greet each other with a Holy Kiss. Here, I’ll show you…” When he pulls away, he’s still left his wife and kids vulnerable to the incredibly awkward bear hug, which isn’t really as biblical, but still very effective. Enough said – they’ll be back when the platypus flies with the penguins.
- Beg for volunteers. Hey, let’s face it, your church has a lot of work to do. And this weekend, you’ll have lots of people there who aren’t really pulling their fair share of the load. Easter weekend is a great time to lay on the guilt and recruit some new Sunday School teachers. Other positions of service you may want to load up on this weekend are groundskeepers, bulletin stuffers, and nursery workers. Nothing says “Don’t come back.” like the threat of diaper duty and formula “splatter”.
- Make sure the music and the message are the same as last year. We only have one message right? Jesus is alive! Make sure to say that in the same way it was said last year and every other year before that. All these new people won’t know the songs, either, so make sure you sing the ones that have been sung every Easter since Moses came down from the mountain. That way, it’s all familiar to them and they won’t feel so out of place, but they’ll be bored and think that’s all we do every week. It’s kind of an emotionally confusing mixed message. Just to be safe, think beyond the music and message, and don’t do anything unexpected that they may find compelling. Be as churchy and boring as they think you are.
- “He is Risen…” Ah, the traditional Easter greeting. If you want to make sure those Easter visitors don’t get too engaged, walk right up to them, look them in the eye (blankly works best), and say “He is risen.” To the uninitiated, this is the most awkward way to say Hello since the Eskimos discovered language. They don’t know how to respond. Just be careful when approaching a group of visitors with the greeting. There’s a good chance that one of them knows the jig, probably the matron of the group who’s forced the rest of them to come by withholding ham and au gratin until after the service, and she’ll answer with the customary “He is risen, indeed!” Look for fidgety eyes, not quite trimmed mustaches, and other signs of anxiety – then greet that guy. He won’t know what to say.
- Treat your visitors as honored guests, being truly grateful that they’re with you to celebrate what’s most important to you.
- Explain what you’re doing during the service, and why.
- Above all of that, live a life that is evidence that Jesus really is alive. Let them see Him in you, and learn to explain the hope that you have when they notice it.