Summer is upon us, and before we all start going thither and yon to camps, vacations, mission trips, and so on, I’ve got three requests to make of you. The first two are for when you are away from Providence this summer. The third is for when you are here.
First, this summer, when you are out of town, wherever you are, please find a church and go to worship there. Your soul needs to be nourished. That’s part of a healthy, restorative vacation. Don’t neglect your soul. More importantly, though, is the fact that God deserves our praise and thanksgiving whether we are at home or away, working or resting. Our need to worship—to pray alongside God’s people, sing our praises to God, hear God’s Word proclaimed, and respond to God’s love and mercy with grateful devotion—never takes a holiday.
So, as your pastor, I’m telling you: Go to worship while you’re out of town on vacation this summer. Visit a different kind of church and see how different Christians worship in different ways. When you do this, please save an order of worship and bring it back for me. I enjoy looking at them and learning how other churches are creative and innovative in their worship—and, no, this isn’t some sort of sneaky way to make you prove that you actually went to church at the beach. I knew a guy who used to bring back orders of worship from other churches with a handwritten note from the pastor: “Yes, he was at church today.” That’s really not necessary.
Second, this summer, when you are out of town, please continue giving generously to Providence. Maybe you don’t need reminding because generous giving is a habit for you. That’s good. Giving is indeed a spiritual practice that, perhaps more consistently than anything else we do, both reflects and strengthens our trust in God. We don’t take a holiday from that. It’s not just a matter of good discipleship, though. It’s also a matter of good stewardship. The missions and ministries of Providence are going strong between Memorial Day and Labor Day regardless of whether you are in town or not, so continue to support them—regardless of whether you are home or away.
Finally, this summer, when you are in town, and at worship, and giving faithfully, I’d like you to pay attention to those sitting around you in the Sanctuary who might be guests. I can personally attest to the fact that Providence people treat newcomers very well. Others have shared with me their own experiences of being a guest here and receiving a warm, sincere welcome. We need to keep that up.
In the summer, though, things tend to slow down. We feel less rushed on Sunday mornings, and maybe more willing to take time to have conversations with guests, both before and after worship. Thom Rainer, president of Lifeway Christian Resources, writes that there are seven things we should say to our guests in worship. I thought them worth passing along:
• “Thank you for being here.” That seems like such an obvious thing to say, but I suspect we’d be surprised at how seldom it actually happens.
• “Let me help you with that.” For the parent struggling with baby gear, the elder struggling with a walker—for anybody, really, who needs a hand—this small gesture speaks volumes about who we are and what we’re like.
• “Please take my seat.” Nothing tells a guest, “You’re not welcome here,” quite like a roomful of regulars who refuse to scoot over.
• “Here’s my email address. Please let me know if I can help in any way.” You may not want to share this information with every guest, but for people you connect with—especially those who are new to Charlotte—having a friendly contact can be a huge source of comfort and assistance.
• “Can I show you where you need to go?” Providence is a big place. Newcomers need to know how to find their way around. Signs are fine, but kind guides are much better.
• “Let me introduce you to ___.” The more people guests meet while at Providence, the more likely they are to feel at home here and want to return. It’s that simple. I believe I speak for all the staff when I say that we, especially, want to meet our guests on Sunday morning. Please help us do that.
• “Would you join us for lunch?” According to Rainer, this is the single most effective way of making the kind of impression that leads first-time guests to become second-time guests.
So, three things to work on this summer. When you’re away, go to worship and continue to give generously to Providence. When you’re here, welcome guests with warm smiles, kind words, and friendly hospitality. May these summer months be a blessing to you—and, wherever you are between now and the beginning of September—may the peace of Christ be with you!