How to Drop Your Church’s Secret Menu and Make Your Guests Feel Welcome

Short Starbucks Cup

Every church has a secret menu. Things we say and do that our regulars take for granted, but can be confusing and frustrating to newcomers.

Here’s an example of how frustrating a secret menu can be.

I was at a Starbucks this week, when the man in front of me ordered a short latte. The employee responded “that’s a tall latte”, causing this exact exchange between them.

Short
Tall
Short
Tall
Short
Tall

I leaned in and told the frustrated customer “tall is the shortest one they have.” He thanked me. The Starbucks employee looked perturbed.

I posted this on Facebook and got quick responses from friends about how funny and frustrating that sounded. Then Jonny Craig, from 200Churches.com commented, “As a former Starbucks employee, I am appalled! Short is, in fact, a size option! (it’s 8 oz).”

It seems Starbucks has a secret menu. So secret that the employee in question didn’t even know about it. In addition to the short option (as seen in the above photo, supplied by Facebook friend Lou Covey), they also have a super-size called a Trenta.

 

The Problem of Secret Menus at Churches

I was telling some fellow pastors about this Starbucks episode and wondered out loud why restaurants have secret menus. “There’s a restaurant chain in California named In-N-Out that has secret menu items, too,” I told them. “I guess they do it to make regulars feel special, since they know the insider lingo.”

“Sounds like some churches,” one pastor responded.

Yep. That’s exactly what it sounds like, I thought.

 

Some Church Secret Menu Items

Here are some secret menu items I’ve seen in some churches. Insider info that church members know, but guests need to have explained to them. 

  • Where’s the front door?
  • What should I wear?
  • How do I find the restrooms, nursery, etc?
  • Can I sit anywhere?
  • Am I expected to give something in the offering?
  • How long will the service last?
  • Is communion just for members, or for everyone?
  • Why are we singing?
  • Why are people raising their hands?
  • Why are people lighting candles?
  • When do we sit, stand, kneel…?
  • Why do we sit, stand, kneel…?
  • What’s an Ecclesiastes and how can I get a bible to look it up like everyone else is doing?
  • The pastor just said, “See Chris Lucas if you want to sign up for a home group.” Who is Chris Lucas?
  • What do terms like “substitutionary atonement” mean?

 

Do It, But Explain It

This article is not a plea to change the way your church worships. Just explain it. Especially the things your church does that may be distinct to your denomination or faith tradition.

And use every means available. You can never over-explain. Here are a few examples.

  • Print an order of service in plain English (click here for an example from my church)
  • Explain things as they happen
  • Use hallway signs
  • Have an FAQ section on your website
  • Train ushers and greeters to answer questions
  • Use your video projector

We shouldn’t feel the need to change who we are, especially on matters of theology. But one of the obligations of being a good host is to let people know why we’re doing what we’re doing. And how they can participate.

Be who you are. Worship, minister and serve according to your conscience, your theology and your faith traditions. But don’t push insiders away by keeping the decoder ring to yourself.

 

So what do you think? What other Secret Menu items have you seen in churches?

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 (Starbucks short cup photo from Lou Covey)

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20 thoughts on “How to Drop Your Church’s Secret Menu and Make Your Guests Feel Welcome”

  1. This is needed in many Churches. Returning to the basics is good for the newcomers and the folks who may have forgotten why the Church does what it does.

  2. My husband took the pastor position at our new church 6 months ago. I’ve been at every service since September, and I’m still figuring out the secret menu! Makes me much more sensitive to what visitors are feeling. So I’ve taken on the mission of asking all my questions- even the seemingly obvious ones- out loud enough for others to hear the answers. People who are newer than me get an explanation without the embarrassment of asking and no one minds me asking because I’m the new PW 🙂 Win-win!

    1. Wow, six months and still trying to figure out the secret menu? Those are some really thick weeds. Sounds like you’ve found a good way to start breaking through, though. Sometimes, not being afraid to ask questions is the only way through that.

  3. Good point about the “Who is Chris Lucas” question whenever we’re asked to see somebody about something. I’m gonna start putting their photos on our announcements.

  4. Only one thing in my experience is worse than the secret menu. It is church members who pointedly ignore you as if they wished that you had not come to their church and would go away.

  5. Thank you. My husband and I serve this 150+year-old New England church. We’ve been here almost nine years and still struggle with this issue. We have made some progress, and this article reinforces what we’re trying to do, and why.

  6. While there are things that need to be made clear for the sake of guests I would simply encourage churches to cultivate two things that guests find irresistible and though they may not understand everything their hearts will be warmed and touched. The two thing I’m referring to are firstly a strong sense of Gods presence and secondly genuine friendliness toward guests. When people are loved on, cared for and made to feel welcome and they truly sense, possibly for the first time, the presence of the Lord among His people everything else becomes window dressing. I’m not speaking of those who are already Christians but those who are unchurched.
    JF

  7. Pingback: Secret Menu | Catholic Sensibility

  8. Pingback: 38 Great Links for Leaders, Readers, and Creatives, February 21, 2015

  9. the first four items can be covered with a google business tour embedded on your website and on google search engines. Affordable – search for a google certified photographer in your area- most give a faith organization discount.

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