Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Lay Leaders Guide to Getting the Most from Your Guest Speakers

One of the things I get to do, and really love doing, is to preach at churches around my state. I adore it. I get to meet some of the coolest people you'll ever meet -- people in little pockets of the world, trying to make their little pocket a more loving, just, place.

My home church is one of those little pockets and has been mostly lay-led over my years there. I held the post of Worship Chair twice and between that and actually being the guest speaker, I've learned some things.

So, here, I offer you HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR GUEST SPEAKER. (Especially if your guest speaker is a UU seminarian, minister, religious professional or consultant.)

Before Sunday:
  • Tell them everything that will happen that Sunday, from what time someone opens to the church, to the meetings before church, to the circle afterwards, to lunch, etc.
  • In great detail, tell them everything that you would like them to do:
    • Do you want them to lead the entire service, or just do the readings/sermon?
    • Do you want them to do the chalice lighting ... offertory ... lead joys/sorrows?
  • If you have something after the service you would like them to join, let them know ahead of time. Especially if you have a discussion of the sermon afterwards. In at least two churches, I've mingled, chatted wth people, gathered my stuff, and been walking out the door before someone says, "Oh, are you leaving? We're going to gather to talk about your sermon." Or, "Oh, we were hoping you'd join us for lunch." Well, if I've already pulled together my kids and my husband, it is at best awkward to then come back in, get everyone settled, etc. We often just say thanks, and continue on our way. I'd love to join you. Just let me know ahead of time.
  • If your speaker is a minister or seminarian, let them know a little bit about your congregation, and any major things that are going on. We want to make our message more meaningful to you. Doing a project you're proud of?  Let us know so we can reference it and cheer you on. Is your congregation laid back about religious language or do they bristle at the word "God"? Let us know. We might not change anything, but we'll know what to expect.
  • Have an established "normal" order of service but be willing to deviate from it.  First, let me know what is normal for your church. If they're accustomed to 2 hymns every Sunday, I'd rather do that than add in a third.  However, be flexible. If I really think that this particular service needs all three hymns, let's do it if it's feasible. 

    But again, do have a normal order of service. Don't give me a completely blank slate. Let me know what your "normal" is.
  • Meet your speaker a little before the service, and first give them a tour of your building. Ah, there's the bathrooms.
  • Have a fresh cup of water for them in the podium and let them know it's fresh. 
  • Go over the order of service, especially if you're doing it together.  Who'll introduce this hymn? Who'll light the chalice?
  • Show them where they can leave their coat, briefcase, etc.
  • Have a plan for afterwards -- do you walk them to the back so they can shake hands with parishioners? What about after that? Have someone who can escort them to coffee, introduce them to people, etc. Get the most out of them! 
  • Let them know any feedback you've heard. (Especially seminarians.) Now, if the cranky person who never likes anyone criticizes them, there's probably not a useful purpose in passing that on. But if 5+ people say "Oh, I liked him!" or "I couldn't really hear her," or even "They found you too ... (Christian, Atheist, Activist, Intellectual, etc.)" let us know.
  • If they are someone who knows their way around worship, ask them for their feedback. What could you, as a church, do better? They probably visit quite a few other churches, which gives them a unique outsider's perspective. 

Edit: The BFF-DRE pointed out that these are good tips for all religious professionals. She's right. Mea Culpa.


    Anonymous said...

    Hey, lizard eater, friend of eric posa here. Suggestion: send this to erik walker wikstrom, in charge of worship web at UUA. He'd love to have something like this.


    Unknown said...

    I'd add that the place to leave briefcase, coat, purse, etc. should be secure. In an office, or at least out of sight in a filing cabinet, is much better than on the public coatrack...


    --Have a release form, to offer to your guest, giving your fellowship/church/society permission to post recordings of her/his sermon on the web. Don't assume it's o.k. to do so - maybe she or he is writing a book and including material from the sermon.

    --Have a check written for the speaker in the amount of the agreed upon honorarium. Give it to your guest *before* the service (or first service) begins.

    --Offer the speaker a quiet place to get centered before worship begins, if at all possible.

    --Ask your speaker for a short "bio" to use in preparing an introduction. Then, either read what s/he gave you, or write it up in your own words in advance.

    Unknown said...

    Oh - and I'm forwarding this to a couple of worship chairs I know. It's good stuff!

    Lilylou said...

    Excellent pointers, LE. One thing I'd add is "give the speaker some choices about what they do: do they want to do the children's moment or not? do they want to do the benediction/closing words or let the worship leader do it? That sort of thing gives the speaker a way to make the service familiar to him/her as well. I suspect that most of us who do a lot of outside speaking use sermons we've prepared for another congregation, so we have some ideas for all the elements, but it's nice to have the choice about what to use.

    The scenario I most dislike is when the hymns and readings are all chosen by someone else in an attempt to control what happens. Luckily, this doesn't happen very often, but it's disconcerting not to have those choices.

    Stephanie said...

    I've been doing a fair amount of public speaking in the past year, and this would be useful for lots of non-profits and other organizations too.

    Amy said...

    Excellent--I've sent our Worship Associates the link.