I can remember the second Sunday after my family changed churches when I was in grade school. Previously we had been attending a Catholic church near my home. For reasons I didn’t understand at the time, we changed to an Assemblies of God church. For those who aren’t familiar with the differences between those churches, the differences were monumental. Picture going to a library to study only to find your schools marching band inside practicing instead (I am not joking). This was the culture shock I was experiencing. While some things were going to be weird regardless of what I would have been told, some warning would have been nice. So what should we explain before bringing someone to church?
Before we get to that I would like to point out that church is not a place designed for non-Christians. Church is a group of people encouraging each other to run after God and a place where Christians can enjoy God together. Does that mean you should never invite a non-Christian to church? Eh, that’s hard to answer. However, most (and I would say all) of the functions of the service will have little to no meaning for them. So, something that should be explained by you before you bring that someone to church is the gospel. That’s right, it is your job to share the gospel, not just the pastor, and before you say that you can’t or that the pastor is better qualified let me say this: if you are a Christian you have heard the gospel and by the power of the Holy Spirit, made sense of it. Therefore, you are just as capable of sharing the gospel as the pastor who (if they stay true to the gospel) will tell them the same thing. Now that we have addressed non-Christians, we are left with two groups of people, new believers and moving believers.
For someone new to the faith a lot of the stuff has meaning once it’s explained, but it must be explained. Some things to think of are, songs and why we sing them, communion and why we celebrate it, the offering and where it goes, the sermon and how to apply it, and what is prayer and why we do it. Almost everything in a church service has meaning for the believer, profound meaning even, but if we don’t know why we do what we do then how can we explain those things to someone who is new to the faith?
The truth is that no matter how prepared a new believer is for their first church experience there is nothing like a firsthand experience. Think of trying to explain the color green to someone who can’t see it. Be prepared for them to be confused, bored, or even upset. The best thing for you to tell them beforehand is that it’s OK to ask questions.
For someone who has already experienced church in another setting or another denomination, I would recommend many of the same things as for the new believer. Open the door for questions, even if you don’t know the answers (maybe a good reason to figure out why we do what we do). Be OK with differing opinions. There are really only a few things about Christianity worth dying over (and die we often do), most of which aren’t going to be questioned by someone who is changing churches. Paul says something profound in Corinthians about how the body is made up of different parts (that includes people who think differently than you) but we are all joined together under Christ for his glory. As long as we are about the glory of Christ our differences aren’t really that important.
To conclude, church is packed with experiences filled with meaning. Understanding why we do what we do is vital to having those experiences have meaning. You can’t explain something you don’t know, and it is important to know because it is another way we get to express the privilege of glorifying Christ and enjoying him.