I realize that not every reader will agree with me on this topic. I also realize that churches are so varied that few suggestions like this one apply the same way in every congregation. Nevertheless, I do believe that being among your congregation before the service can make a big difference in your pastoral ministry. Here’s why:
- Just your presence among the congregation says something. A pastor walking among the congregation, talking with them and listening to them, is at least suggesting by his actions, “I care about you, and I’m one of you.”
- When people know you, they will listen to you differently. Church members might be fine with listening to a pastor they don’t really know, but it’s always different when you’re hearing from a leader who knows your name and has had conversations (even brief ones) with you.
- Those few moments before the service might be the most opportunity you have to minister to some of your members that week. Sure, you can always make appointments later in the week, but finding time is not always easy. Actually, a few focused moments on Sunday morning might make the appointment unnecessary (see the next point).
- You can do a lot of shepherding in the time before the service. You can, in fact, hear a prayer concern . . . shake a tired hand . . . share God’s love with a lonely listener . . . pray with a friend . . . hang out with kids and teens in the service . . . encourage the discouraged . . . offer some counsel . . . etc. You just have to work at it to use that time wisely.
- You model for your staff and the church the need to welcome others. Many church members make their way to “their” seat and talk with only the few people around them—and they don’t even consider moving around the worship center to meet and greet others. Staff, too, sometimes miss the same opportunity. It will be much easier for you to challenge the church to do differently if they see you doing it first.
- You’ll pray more. To be honest, sometimes that’s because somebody says something that stresses you out before you preach (see my post on, “How to Talk to Your Pastor—or Not—on the Way to the Service”). On the other hand, you’ll pray more because you know your people and their needs better—simply because you maximized ministry before the service.
Some weeks ago, I visited a large church with three services, and I watched as the pastor mingled with the people before every service. It was obvious that he was intentionally greeting his church. I suspect that approach, even in that large church, has made a difference.
What are your thoughts on this topic?