Observations at Martin Luther King’s Former Church
My family and I had a chance to go on vacation last week.
We visited my brother-in-law, Brad, in Montgomery, AL. On the way, Brad called and suggested that since we would be going near Selma, we should take a detour and visit the bridge with the kids and teach them about the civil rights movement.
So we did. I was stunned at how much I didn’t know about it. I didn’t really know what was significant about Selma or Montgomery, but my family and I quickly caught up! Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, right?
While in Montgomery, I had the opportunity to worship at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was pastor during the civil rights movement. There were at least five characteristics of this church that I thought were powerfully significant for a visitor’s experience. In no particular order, here they are:
This Church Prays for the Offering and for Political Leaders.
In almost every church I’ve worked in or gone to, we pray before we take the offering. They didn’t. They prayed after receiving the offering. When it had been collected, the ushers took the offering back to the front of the church and we prayed as a church that this money would be blessed by God and used for his Kingdom.
There was something powerful about literally laying the money at the front and “giving” it to God. The imagery was profound.
We also prayed for political leaders. Something about this prayer seemed familiar, like this happens a lot. I once heard Perry Noble say to a room full of pastors “How dare you criticize [George W. Bush] if you haven’t prayed for that man.” Side note: How dare you criticize Perry Noble if you haven’t prayed for that man, either.
I don’t feel like I’ve prayed for political leaders much in church unless a crisis was happening. We prayed before the insane events of this week took place.
The Church Band was Backdrop, Not the Focus.
There were drums, bass, piano, a small choir, and an organ. The pastor lead the worship too. There was no drum shield, no lighting, no mics on anything but the piano, pastor, and piano player. The room only seated about 200, and it wasn’t too loud!
Congrats sound guy. You have won church sound FOREVER.
The most important thing about the worship time was that the band was in the background. They were clearly there to support the singing. They played well, but that wasn’t the focus. The focus was on people actually singing. I wonder how different many churches would look if getting people to sing was actually the practical goal of the worship band? Shots fired! Fire back in the comments, but you know our bands and our “excellence” takes precedence over the actual act of worship in our churches a little too often.
This Church Does the Meet & Greet
The service made lots of room for newbies. Every visitor was asked to stand and we went around the room and told who we were and where we were from.
I’m going to let you absorb that for a second.
Now that you’ve properly screamed into a pillow while imagining having to live out every introverts worst nightmare, hear me out. It really wasn’t bad. It actually felt like this church genuinely cared to know me. In many churches, this time feels superficial. We go find some familiar faces unless we accidentally make eye contact with someone we don’t know try to make it back to our seats with as few uncomfortable interactions with other humans as possible. We don’t have time to meet new people when we’ve got worshippin to do! I imagine God doing a major #facepalm when we misunderstand community like that.
These guys threw everything they had at us.
Because after we all introduced ourselves (North Carolina, Montgomery, Los Angeles, Texas, and Ireland were all in the house), we spent the next 15 minutes personally meeting every single one of them. While the band played, the pastor came down and I think he shook every person’s hand. We were in the back, so by the time he got to us, I couldn’t help but think “My gosh, he’s going to shake every single person’s hand in here….I hope everyone washed their hands.” Sings out loud: Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts….
In all seriousness, it was incredible. I’ve not felt that kind of genuine warmth in a church to that level before. I was hugged thrice, invited back when I visit again at least five times, and I probably walked around the sanctuary more than a 30-something nerd looking for an invisible Pokemon. I loved it.
Theology on the meet & greet officially changed. Sorry fellow introverts. Time to break out of that Poke-egg or whatever, I don’t know how that game works.
This Church Truly Loves Everyone
Many churches have strategies for making people feel welcome. That’s a good idea, and I’m not knocking it. However, no strategy can replace a genuine love for other people.
In this church, everyone was accepted and loved, and they told us so! It was felt. So when they told me they were happy to meet me, I believed them.
That’s the experience you want visitors to have at your church. It’s just about a strategy, but about people showing genuine respect and interest in other people. That communicates that you see them as human.
Imperfect, flawed, and loved humans. That’s what we are. All of us.
What is your visitor experience like? If you read something that really inspired you that Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church (a name so long that you can’t even acronym it properly….DAKMBC?) did, shout it out in the comments!