If you’re a fan of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” you may remember an episode where Ray is shamed by his wife, father, and mother into attending church on a more regular basis. But when he sets his sights on becoming an usher with his father, he gets a shock.
His father doesn’t go to church for all the holy reasons he tells the family. Rather, he does it to hang with the guys in the back while cracking jokes on the poor souls in the pews.
This episode came to memory as I read a recent piece by Lovett Weems of the Lewis Center, “Newcomers,” in which he reminds congregational leaders that the way people come to church is not what it used to be–by any measure.
“In the past,” he begins, “people came to us…. New people understood how churches work and shared their beliefs.”
“Today,” he continues, “the sequence for many is the opposite, especially for the young. Serving may be their entry point, followed by a small group and then worship. Also today, some will participate actively without joining, at least for a long while. Some may never join. They will probably not come based on thorough knowledge of our beliefs and values. That does not mean beliefs are unimportant, but rather that decisions about choosing a church are based far more on relationships and belonging.”
No More Good Ol’ Boys Club
Ray and his father were in a church of the past. The people knew one another; grew up together; and often came together out of commitment to family.
And his father, the usher, played to that role. Too many churches today continue to train and use their ushers as if they are churches of the past.
It doesn’t work.
Today’s ushers must be more sensitive to the church of today that Weems describes. A church where people come, very often, first out of an act of service. Many will take years to join, if they ever do.
And when you are communicating your church to the community, those whose job it is to greet and seat these people in worship must be keenly aware of what’s changed.
From Ushers to Hosts
If your idea of ushers still centers around seating, passing out bulletins, and handling the offering plates, pay more attention to what Weems writes.
“Treat newcomers as ‘guests’ and not ‘visitors’. When newcomers are seen as guests, your focus is with them and not with you and your church. You try to look at everything from their perspective. Churches can no longer assume guests have a church or religious background, so it is important to monitor everything you do, say, and write from the perspective of guests there for the first time.”
In fact, changing your ushers’ mindsets from that of ushers to hosts may be the most important thing you can do to improve your congregation’s outreach.
What’s the difference? We at SLC stress three.
1. Greeters, not pushers. In today’s world, people are more sensitive than ever to feeling as if people want something from them. Ushers guide people into an established community, leading them through the channels that lead to membership. Hosts, on the other hand, invite people into the “home” of those people they may well have already met outside the church walls. They make them welcome, comfortable, and at home with no expectation that they will ultimately choose to “live” therein.
2. Listeners, not directors. Ushers’ roles historically revolved around directing people to the appropriate places they needed to be. Hosts, on the other hand, spend more time listening. They take an interest in newcomers and show a deep interest in their stories.
3. Inviters, not recruiters. Ushers played an important role in putting recruiting materials in people’s hands. Hosts, on the other hand, spend their time looking for opportunities that match newcomers’ needs and informing them about these opportunities.
The church today is not your father’s or mother’s church. Your church may or may not have adapted, but the community around you moves forward.
Shifting from ushers to hosts is a small, but important, step in communicating that your congregation is tuned into your community, its needs, and its desire to serve the world we share together.