Behind the curtain

Take an insiders look at some of the thought processes, and internal dialogue that two people attending the same church event move through:

  First timer Long term member
Before leaving home I wonder if people will be friendly? Will I have to awkwardly stand on my own?Maybe I’ll wait until next week. I better not, I say that every week. I wonder how long it will go for? I’m so looking forward to seeing everyone today.
Parking Is this where I’m supposed to drive in. Where is the building entrance? Hurry hurry hurry
Walking to the building Here we go…I have no idea what this is going to be like. Where is the entrance? I hope I’m not too early! Why are we always running late? Are the kids all with us?
Stepping inside This looks interesting, I’m glad there are a few people here already. No one I know though. Oh there’s, Alex, Hi!
Choosing a seat Can I sit anywhere? I don’t want to get in anyone’s way. I’ll just sit here and check my phone. There are our seats. Oh, it looks like the Wilkinsons are still away.
Prayers of intercession What does intercession mean? Do I have to say anything? Why are some people looking down and others aren’t? I’ll just listen. I’m glad I put that prayer request in. I am worried about Jo & Tim, its good to spend some time in prayer for them.
Passing of the peace Why are we doing this? What do I do? I’ve never done this in my life. (someone offers a handshake) Oh well, I guess we just shake hands. I hope I wasn’t supposed to say anything. Peace be with you
Offering Do I need to give? Is it bad if I don’t? I don’t want to be rude….I feel rude. Our direct deposit is all set up. I love this community.
End of the service Phew, yes I could use a cup of tea. Where do I go? Actually, that is a lot of people, I might just duck out. I’ve got to talk to James about the meeting next week and Ian wanted to give me something. Oh and I haven’t said hi to Jane in ages there she is, I’ll go over.


  • Can you think of a time where you were an outsider at something? What was that experience like?
  • What are some of the common assumptions you make about language & practices in your project?
  • What parts of participating in your event might be challenging for a newcomer?
  • Does a participant need to understand what is happening in order to experience connection to God?
  • At what points in the journey above, did the visitor need the most encouragement or support?
  • What do you think are the differences between what is happening during the prayer time for the visitor, and the member?
  • To what extent can the ‘why’ of our traditions be explained or named during a gathering, and to what extent do people need to do their own exploration?
  • Do constant explanations interfere with a sense of sacredness? How do they effect people participating regularly as apposed to people who are visiting for the first time or only occasionally?

Wisdom from the pews

“Transparency and reiteration around ‘why’ a project has particular practices or rituals fosters purpose and depth. It connects participants to the ways in which simple tasks carry great meaning, enriching their faith and commitment. ”

“There is value in being intentional about communicating why things are done they way they are done, for both new and existing participants. This is part of hospitality. Having regular rhythms, rituals, practices or liturgy that clearly connect to the overall purpose of the project fosters meaningful engagement.”

“ Especially if any community member can articulate the reasons and meaning behind the why & the what. This is especially important where multiple cultures and languages are present. ”

“How is the project helping people become explorers and meaning makers? Speaking openly about these core ideas behind a project during gatherings, keeps everyone poised and expecting new people to be joining in.”

Going deeper

Small Boat Big Sea on Radio National

Radio National interview with a pastor from “Small Boat Big Sea” which is an emerging church community established in the Northern Beaches of Sydney. In this interview they explore what is different about this gathering and how it is experienced by participants.