Come early. Park far. Sit close.
We came up with this little mantra earlier this year, preparing our people to actively make a difference for the guests who would show up at our services on Easter Sunday. When we first began challenging our church family with this idea, it was almost overwhelming how many people responded. We had several individuals and families who not only took the exhortation seriously; they even switched to our early (9:00) service to make more room for guests in our late (10:45) service. It was incredibly encouraging.
Since that time, knowing that the newness and impact of the phrase (and with it, the idea itself) has worn off, many people have drifted back to the way things were before; showing up late, parking as close as they can (since they’re already late and need to get in quickly), and coming in and filling up the back seats. Old habits die hard.
I’d like to take a few minutes and explain why this is more than just a catchy mantra or passing catch-phrase; that it’s actually a window into our worship.
First off, why “Come early”? Our consumer culture (even penetrating into the church and Christianity) believes that it’s “all about me”. We would never say this, but most folks come shopping (call it hunting, if it makes you feel better) and looking for a church that “meets my needs” or that does music the way we like it. It’s initially about ME. That said, it can’t stay about me. At some point, it has to become about others. And to take it a step further, it’s actually all about God! So when we encourage our people to come early, it’s for several reasons:
- · If we discipline ourselves to come early, then we are much more likely to discipline ourselves to prepare our hearts before we even arrive.
- When we come early, we’re here – ready and available – to greet guests who come in, creating a welcoming environment of hospitality. Most of us forget what it feels like to not know anyone.
- Do you show up for your job late? (If your answer is “Yes”, then we have another conversation that needs to take place.) What about sporting events? My son and I arrive at Tennessee Football games 2-3 hours before the kickoff! We don’t want to miss a thing that happens! It’s a matter of priority. Are you making corporate worship a priority?
- Our worship team spends 3-4 hours preparing for what they’re going to do to lead us on Sunday mornings. When you miss the first 10 minutes, you are saying to them without ever uttering a word, “I don’t care about your time.” You might not mean this, but it’s the message that’s being sent.
Moving on, why does it matter where we park? The answer is simple, really. Our desire is not only to honor our guests – to make them feel welcome and wanted – but to make things as easy as possible for them. The more parking places there are at the front, the better. It also leaves room for pregnant mothers, senior adults, and families with special needs. (And do we even need to mention that most of us probably need the exercise?)
You came early, and you even parked in the north 40, but why should you “Sit close”? The answer to this question is much like the last one. The people we expect to come in a few minutes late are our guests. Maybe they couldn’t find The Brook, they got lost, or they just wanted to slip in unnoticed their first time here. We extend them this opportunity when we leave the back few rows empty and open. But when the first place people gravitate is toward the back, those guests – or anyone, for that matter – who walk in late are forced to feel as though they’re “making a scene”, parading in front of everyone. And it can actually be a huge distraction, not only for those sitting around them, but also for those leading.
Come early. Park far. Sit close.
This is way more than just bumper sticker material; it’s a worldview. It’s a window into how you look at life, your hunger for God, and your love of others. I want to ask you to prayerfully consider taking this challenge with us. And even if you don't go to The Brook, I know this would apply at your church as well. I have overwhelming evidence that as you take this step to bless others, you will be blessed in the process.