Updated: Mar 3, 2020
It is easy to focus attention on HOW to make a good First Impression at church. I have an inventory of 200 HOW-ish type things to assist a church in doing Guest Services well.
But HOW only happens consistently if WHY is understood and appreciated. Not getting the WHY will strangle church guest services, perhaps with dispassionate effort or worse, with no effort at all.
So, today I will review a familiar Bible story with you, the Feeding of the 5000 (drawing from all four Gospel accounts: Matthew 14:13ff, Mark 6:30ff, Luke 9:10ff, John 6:1ff). I will ask the question: WHY guest services? Why did Jesus feed the multitude?
When the story picks up a crowd of 5000 had followed Jesus and His disciples around the edge of the Sea of Galilee to a quiet place where Jesus and the disciples had hoped to get some rest --- by themselves alone --- after the disruptive news of the death of John the Baptist. That plan was turned on its head by the crowd’s assemblage in the very place Jesus disembarked from his boat.
Now what? Jesus welcomed (Luke 9:11) the multitudes. WELCOMED! That is, He made an active effort to receive them (gladly accept them as his guests and entertain them with hospitality).
Now for the WHY ---
1. Jesus empathized with the needs of the crowd.
He made several observations about the crowd; it was large, on foot, in a solitary place, and distanced from the towns. He could see they were like sheep without a shepherd. And, it was already very late in the day; the location was remote. Some were in poor health. And, there was little food among them.
While Jesus had spent part of the day teaching about the kingdom of God, it wasn’t the only thing that mattered in that moment. Jesus was moved with compassion for the crowd. All those people with all those needs couldn’t be ignored!
Similarly, church guests arrive at the door with their own assortment of needs. The discerning eye can and will see them. Preaching? Music? Yeah, definitely important! But not to the neglect of the felt needs of our guests.
Consider these Sunday morning guest preoccupations and issues: Distrustful of the church in general. Attending only to satisfy a family member. Hesitant about handing off children to strangers. Never been inside of a church. Coping with the loss of a job. Completely invisible on previous church visits. Suspicious of church people because of stories they have heard. Certain they stick out like a sore thumb. Confused by denominational differences. Afraid of being put on the spot. Asking, “why am I even here?” Hurting. Lonely. Shy. Bitter. And, yes, some are looking for a church that will love them and offer a place of ministry and connection.
Jesus WELCOMED his retreat-infiltrating crowd, needy as it was; church guest services will also swing down with welcoming grace, joy, and care to the unfamiliar faces that settle into our Sunday morning getaways. We must aim to do all we can to serve guests according to their needs.
2. Jesus facilitated the training of the twelve.
Next, the hungry crowd became an occasion to further develop his disciples. Philip was challenged by Jesus with the idea of finding a place to buy bread for the crowd. The disciples, in turn, collectively evaluated the options and concluded that the best thing to do was to send the crowd away to fend for themselves.
But Jesus rebutted, “You feed them.”
What followed was the hands-on experience of the disciples, feeding the multitude, by the prayerful intervention of Jesus. It looked like this according to Mark 6:41: Jesus kept on giving (imperfect verb) the disciples food to distribute, i.e., when they unloaded fish and bread from their arms, they returned to Jesus for still more of the same to distribute until, in the end, the disciples could see for themselves the crowd was satisfied and there were 12 baskets, full of food, left over. By personal experience (i.e., training) they learned how their deficiency was overcome by the sufficiency of Jesus.
Jesus used his WELCOME ministry, this epic event, to equip his disciples for a lifetime of future, hands-on, life-changing, heaven-dependent, above-oneself, God-honoring ministry.
Such opportunities surround the church every Sunday morning. As guests arrive, volunteers can be equipped to make a difference in the moment, positioned to see God’s provision through their involvement, and moved to live out their kindnesses 24/7 beyond the church’s walls.
Another very good reason for guest services on Sunday morning at church, don’t you think?
3. Jesus authenticated the truth of the Gospel.
Having been fed by Jesus once, the crowd was not inclined to let him slip easily away. Hunger, they knew would come again. And proximity to the bread-producing Jesus could be for them a healthy advantage.
They were in for a surprise. There was more to this bread than instant gratification. It was a sign, a signal, of a greater -- deeper, longer -- satisfaction. More important than clamoring for food which perishes, they should be hungering, Jesus asserted, for the Bread which endures to eternal Life.
Or as he put it, “I am the Bread of Life” – the true bread my Father gives you from heaven!!
His ministry of WELCOME -- the feeding of the 5000 -- was a huge exclamation point at the end of that claim. It was an authentication of everything he said, hard as it was to grasp. His guest services punctuated the truth of his Message. His words were elevated with the amazing power and presence of God as personally experienced among the people.
A Sunday morning ministry to guests offers that same verifying mark of authenticity for the spoken words of God. Maybe it is not a miracle of the scope of this one, but the gospel spoken from the pulpit is affirmed nonetheless with personally engaging and supportive guest experiences. Truth comes alive for guests when they can see the loving kindness of those that serve them and they can sense that God is clearly at work among the people of the church.
The practical and personal Jesus did not overlook the guests that crowded into his hoped-for getaway. He WELCOMED them. And he had good reasons for doing so. So does your church!
Practical tip: help your church to understand the WHY for more effective guest services!