During the past 30 years, I’ve been a member of ten churches in the United States and five foreign countries. Sharp theological debates may appear at times to separate the denominational hierarchy, but on the congregational level it’s the little things that count no matter where you attend.
This point was brought home to me again recently when I had dinner with a retired minister who’d been a missionary in foreign lands for almost half of his career.
As we compared notes as layman and minister, he noted ten actions that he’d learned to avoid. Here’s how he gave them to me — tongue in cheek of course.
1. Always start the service late so the few latecomers will not miss anything. Ignore the 99 percent who’ve made the effort to be there on time; rejoice only for the lost sheep.
2. Attend a preaching seminar in a far off city and return with a much louder voice, longer sermons, long pauses with stares that make people fidget, and great sweeping motions of the arms — ala William Jennings Bryan. Substitute theatrics for content.
3. Get your personal political views — either right or left — into the sermons. Make your opinions appear like they come directly from God.
4. Attend every meeting of every church group or committee. Make sure they know how you feel and will do things your way.
5. Instruct ushers not to assist anyone with a crying child. Children are children, so let them be. If the mother does not know enough to step out of the church until the child quiets down, we shouldn’t tell her. A crying child would be quickly removed from any other public meeting but in this church it’s different.
6. Get to know church members by stopping in at their homes unannounced. Always ask for the same refreshment so they’ll get the idea and have it on hand next time.
7. Push the local denominational newspaper on all members. Insist they subscribe even if they’re happy with another paper. Use subtle brow beating until they all buy a subscription.
8. Watch carefully for newcomers who do not have church offering envelopes. Try to get them before the service, discuss your church’s poor financial condition and get their name and address so you can mail them envelopes.
9. Keep tight control of church bulletins. Make sure they’re only available for a few minutes. Don’t install bulletin racks at any church entrance. Keep all copies out of sight except when the ushers are passing them out. Otherwise they’ll be reading it during the service, or even the sermon, heaven forbid.
10. After the service, force everyone to use only one exit. That way all members, including the feeble or infirm, must crowd the exit where you can greet them all.

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