How to blend in at the new church

USA Today’s travel reporter, Christopher Elliott writes on how tourists can blend in while on vacation.  They want to do this for safety’s sake.  “This summer, four visitors cycling in Tajikistan were targeted and killed by terrorists.  The U.S. State Department is continuously warning Americans about travel abroad, sometimes advising them to stay away from touristy areas.”

So how does one go about not looking like a tourist, Elliott wonders.  “It’s a combination of wearing the right clothes, visiting the right places, and behaving in an un-touristy way, say experts.”

Nothing identifies you more as an American visitor than wearing white Nikes, they say.  Elliott writes, “Sometimes blending in means staying away from clothes marketed to travelers.” That means not wearing zip-off pants (whatever that is) and breathable mesh shorts.  “Cameras are also a dead giveaway.  As is walking around with a map in your hands.

I would add to that list: Saying y’all a lot, wearing a cowboy hat and western boots, and asking the policeman to direct you to the nearest McDonald’s.

Okay. Good. Now, let’s say you’re visiting a new church.  And you decide you do not want to look out of place like the first-timer visitor you are. So, what do you do?

One. Go to their website in advance and look at the photos. How are the people dressed?  Anyone your age in the pictures?  (If you are my age–78–and the congregation is all under 30 and the music is heavy-metal, nothing you can do will make people believe you belong here!  You are simply out of place.)

Two. Once you arrive at the church, do not park in a guest parking space, although they are usually choice.  And don’t look around like you’re lost.  Be cool.

Three. Sit in the car for ten minutes observing people as they arrive. What door do they enter?  Anything going on that tips you to who they are or how you should behave?

Four.  Greet the people at the door happily, as though you are glad to see them again. Take the handouts and move inside.

Five. Do not stand just inside the front door trying to get your bearings. You are blocking the door and may as well hang a sign around your neck screaming, “First-timer! First-Timer!”  Instead, go across the lobby area and do something–look inside your Bible or get out your phone, something!–while casually taking in your surroundings.  See where people are entering the worship center and locate the bathrooms.

Six.  When you walk inside the auditorium, do not stop.  (Blocking traffic is what visitors do best.)  Step over to one side and look over the possibilities.

Seven.  Find a seating area where you can see well and will feel comfortable,  but preferably one that is not crowded. (Otherwise, you may experience the dreaded “You’re in my seat” syndrome.  Settle in, look over the worship guide, and relax.

Eight.  Participate in the service–singing, listening intently to announcements, etc. If the congregation is vocal, ‘amen’ the sermon.

Nine. If they have a time in the service for greeting people around you, do not stand there like a (gasp!) visitor, but turn to the people in front and behind and stick out your hand, while giving them a big smile.  Take the initiative.

Ten.  Practice saying “Nice to see you again” until it sounds like you mean it.

Or not.

Why would you want to blend in? Why not make it obvious you are a first-timer and find out in a New York minute if this congregation is open to new people.

And how would you go about letting people know you are new?  Do all the usual things we want of visitors…

Park in the guest slot.  Tell the greeter this is your first time there so he/she can be helpful. That’s their food and drink.

Don’t be bashful. If the church has a welcome desk inside, walk up and introduce yourself. Take the materials and read them at home.

Give the church a chance to put their best foot forward for you. After all, no one is going to mug you for being a tourist.  Probably.

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