Today was a banner day at church.
You see, we had visitors last week.
Our church is small - very, very small - so visitors are quite noticeable. Our church is very, very friendly, so visitors are much welcomed. Our church is also a very, very short distance from a major tourist attraction, though. And, besides all that, we're Pentecostal.
Now, we're not Holy Rollin' Pentecostal, by any stretch of the imagination. Our worship is lively but not jumpin'. Some of us (most of us) raise our hands now and again as an expression of worship. One or two dance sometimes, gingerly and a bit self-consciously. After each song we generally have some light applause and a few quiet hallelujahs. In the murmur, if you listen carefully, you can hear one or two gently praying in a special language only the Holy Spirit understands.
Last week, two whole families came to visit. Two. Whole. Families. That's two pews - whole pews! - filled. Although our church seats over 200, our regular Sunday attendance is somewhere around 45. Our service was unusually long last week - an hour longer than usual. We had a visiting missionary from India, you see, and we freely give our pulpit to those who give their lives to share the gospel and minister to others in need. After the service, the two families stayed for a bit, greeting people and talking among themselves.
Then they left.
And the waiting began.
It isn't usual for visitors to return. Generally, they really are just visiting and are from out of town. Or our Pentecostalism turns them off. Sometimes our service is too long (usually an hour and a half). Or our two-member worship team just doesn't do it for them. Or any of a number of reasons (pews too hard, nursery too small, not enough families, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera).
It is nerve-wracking to be a tiny, close-knit church and have two whole families visit. You can't help but hope to see them again. I suspect that, last Sunday, there was a lot of talk over dinner at various members' homes about the Visitors and the likelihood of their return. Last week's Visitors, especially. Turns out they were local. And they stayed after service to talk with us - a good sign. We imagine the Visitors' teens in our youth group. Perhaps the Visitors will even come to Bible Study. Maybe one or two of the Visitors plays an instrument! Why, we could double our worship team!
Those two pews looked really good all filled up like that. And the people who normally sat there didn't bat an eye about their usual seats being taken - after all, these were Visitors. And the Visitors were nice people. And they had kids. They held a sort of promise that maybe our church won't always be so very, very small.
At our house, we expressed some hope, but kept things pretty quiet. No one wants to get all excited over visitors, only to be disappointed yet again. It's probably toughest on the pastor and his family when visitors come who could potentially stay.
It was a long, wait-ful week.
And this week, they came back. (!!!)
And, if possible, we'll be even more nerve-wracked come Saturday night of this week, wondering if we'll see them again.