12 Lessons from Attending Worship in Foreign Lands

Many churches today have refugees and other foreign nationals in their worship services. Since I’ve had the privilege to attended worship in several countries over the years, it has taught me a few things that pastors and other leaders may want to consider when they have internationals in their congregation. Here are some thoughts:

  1. Before services have “scouts” who will make you aware of the presence of various guests so you can adapt to their presence.
  2. Don’t assume your audience speaks your language, be aware some of your guests might not understand a word you are saying, but they will pick up on your tone.
  3. Post scripture references on a screen or in print so they can read in their own Bible and at least be following the main idea. Let God speak through His Word.
  4. Music helps. Even if they cannot understand the words, they may know the tune of familiar hymns and songs. Even the simplest songs can communicate deep truths that cross cultural divides.
  5. If you know you have foreign visitors, make an effort to greet in multiple languages if possible.
  6. Don’t be long-winded. Mix-in various media so the message can be communicated in a variety of ways so that at least some may be understood.
  7. Prayers are important: Everyone can pray in their own heart, give opportunities for personal or even silent prayer. 
  8. Explain and act out your rituals. Whether baptism, the Lord’s supper, or offerings, help guests understand the way you do things that might be strange to some. 
  9. Ask for permission of your guests who speak a different tongue if you can introduce them so your multi-lingual members will know to seek them out and greet them in their own language. You may be surprised who steps up to help in a different language.
  10. Use symbols: crosses, graphics, stained glass, pictographs, and icons May communicate more than words to some in your congregation.
  11. Use Gestures signaling when to stand, sit etc. It can help a lot to someone who isn’t getting the verbal cues and doesn’t know your traditions.
  12. Physical touch can be extremely effective in creating an atmosphere of fellowship and common purpose. Greeters at the entrance to your building, or members during a greeting time in worship, with a warm handshake can warm the heart and encourage the spirit. Reaching out and grasping hands across the aisles and singing a familiar tune together is an amazing and uniting experience to a stranger.