"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." - Hebrews 13:2
Asking visitors to announce themselves in church signals the rarity of the occasion. Asking them to wear a visitor name tag, when no one else is wearing one, is even worse.
The long term church members are the ones who should wear the name tags, for the benefit of the one person who might be their guest that day. But sadly, church members seldom do. "We all know each other, we don't need name tags," they say, or, "Why everyone here knows me!" when they want to be totally transparent about their narcissism. Heaven forbid the club members extend themselves for the stranger. But isn't that exactly what we are supposed to do?
It is the self-centered church that wants the newcomer to make welcoming easier for the people who are already there. Maybe they think not wearing a name tag is a perk of membership, like sitting in the very back pew when most of the church is empty. Membership has its privileges, like rubbing non-members' noses in their lack of belonging with a visitor name tag, only to be removed when they decide to become members, at which point they will have earned the right to refuse to wear a name tag too.
Everything we do in church ought to include the possibility that this is not a show we put on for one another, but a powerful connection between all of humanity and God. If we believe that worship is better when we do it together, it's got to be even more spectacular if we haven't met everyone there before.
Treat the stranger like an angel, and make them welcome. Wear name tags or don't, I don't care. Just don't ask the visitor to be more outgoing than you are. Hospitality is the work of the host, not the guest.
Come Lord Jesus, be our guest. Amen.
Lillian Daniel's new book Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don't Belong To: Spirituality without Stereotypes, Religion without Ranting is now available for purchase, but you can hear it all for free at 1st Congregational Church of Dubuque, Iowa.