By Lora Ellen McKinney, Ph.D.
Church Etiquette Come early. Rushing into the building at the last minute disrupts the service. Take a place toward the front of the auditorium. Leave the rear seats for those who must be late and for visitors. This is a common courtesy.
Be devout — the church building is not a place of amusement. You come to worship God, not to whisper, nor lounge, or sleep. God’s house deserves utmost respect. Always remember that strangers are guests of the church members. Treat them with the same courtesy you would if they should visit your home.
Never rush for the door after the benediction as though the house were on fire. Remain to speak and be spoken to. Remember at all times that you are in the house of God, and act accordingly. “…That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God…” I Tim. 3:15 (KJV)
What is Church Etiquette? There is no written rulebook about church behavior for Baptists. This information represents what churches typically teach about expected behavior in church. Some of the rules mentioned here will be new but make sense; the rest are based on common sense. Etiquette is defined as ―the customary rules for conduct or behavior in polite society. Church etiquette is the customary rules for conduct and behavior in a church of God. It falls into several broad categories:
Honoring the Sanctuary
Rule 1: Speaking from the Pulpit: Only the minister or invited speakers are allowed to speak from the center pulpit. Other persons are asked to use side lecterns if they are participating in the worship service.
Rule 2: Being in the Pulpit: Only the minister, or persons authorized by the minister should ever be in the pulpit. Children should be taught at young ages that this is a sacred spot and can never be used as a play area.
Rule 3: Enter and Exit As Directed: If you must leave the sanctuary during church service, do not pass in front of the pulpit. Use the side aisles and exits so that you will not disturb others.
Rule 4: Maintaining Silence Before God: During the service, the congregation is expected to actively participate in worship. However, God‘s house is a place for reverence and worship, not loud and idle conversations (between each other or cell phones).
Rule 5: Treatment of Church Bibles and Hymnals: Bibles and Hymnals that are placed in pews are to be treated with care and respect. They should not be written on or used to dispose of gum. The bindings should be cared for; the spines of Bibles and Hymnals should be protected. They are the property of the church and should not be taken home by parishioners. Parishioners should let the church leadership know if Bibles and Hymnals are in need of repair.
Rule 6: Treatment of the Communion Table: The Communion table is used for one of two holy ordinances (ceremonies or rites) of the Baptist Church. Ministers and others who are in charge of the Communion service are the only persons permitted to use it. Personal items should never be placed on the Communion table.
Rule 7: Treatment of the Baptismal Pool: Baptism is the other important ordinance of the Baptist Church. In many churches the baptismal pool is covered and they are typically drained of water until the day of the ceremony. However, some churches have more easily accessible baptismal pools. No one is to ever go into the baptismal pool unless they have specific instructions to do so by church leadership (typically ministers, deacons or trustees).
Rule 8: Treatment of the Pews: Pews are the benches that we sit in on Sundays and for other church services. We should treat them respectfully.
Rule 9: Language that Honors God: Part of your commitment to God is to use language that honors God. Swearing in the sanctuary or any other part of the church is forbidden.
Rule 10: Enter and Exit as Directed: Typically, you are not supposed to enter or leave the sanctuary during prayers, the reading of the Scripture or the sermon. You are also to remain in church until the closing benediction (final prayer of the service) has been said. Ushers, considered gatekeepers of the church, will remind you of these rules if you arrive late, have left to use the restroom, or have another reason to walk into or out of the sanctuary. Of course, emergencies are special cases and will be dealt with as they occur.
Rule 11: No Food, Beverages or Chewing Gum in the Sanctuary: This is another way of respecting the sanctity of God‘s house. Use of these items is too casual in church and runs the risk of ruining church property and wasting tithes made to God on repairs that would not otherwise be necessary. While the chewing gum rule is sometimes broken, its use should be kept to a minimum, and it should always be disposed of properly (not under pews, in Bibles or on other church property).
Honoring the Church Building
Rule 1: Cleanliness is Next to Godliness: Be certain to keep the church clean as a way to honor God. After church classes or church meals, make certain that all chairs and tables are where they are supposed to be, and throw away all paper in trash bins. Clean up after yourself in the bathroom and cooperate with any other rules of the church sanitation staff.
Rule 2: Eat Only Where It Is Allowed: Follow the church rules for eating in the church building.
Rule 3: Keep the Outside of the Church Building Neat and Clean: The outside of the church reflects the inside of the church. Make certain that trash is picked up, that flowerbeds are tended, and that nothing unsightly mars the look of God‘s house.
Rule 4: Language That Honors God: Refer to Honoring the Sanctuary, Rule 9.
Honoring Christian Symbols
Rule 1: Treat Christian Symbols with Respect: Crosses and other Christian symbols around the church building are to be looked at, honored, and respected. We should not use them for other than their intended purposes.
Rule 2: Respect the Ordinances of the Baptist Church: Please refer to Honoring the Sanctuary, Rules 5 and 6. Remember also that the elements of the Communion service can only be used by those who have been baptized.
Rule 3: Respect the Bible: Some of the rules about how the Bible is to be respected have changed over the years. Twenty years ago, people only wrote in their Bibles to record family births and deaths. Now we use our Bibles to study and learn and worship. We should never use them in ways that dishonor God.
Honoring the Pulpit: This is the spot from which the minister preaches God‘s word. Refer to Honoring the Sanctuary: Rule 10.
Honoring Each Other
Rule 1: Treat One Another With Kindness: God wants us to be good to one another so, whatever bad mood you had in the car on your way to church, you should greet each other kindly, in God‘s Page 8 Low Country Deacons name, when you meet in church.
Rule 2: Row Two Is Not Your Pew: If you like a particular seat in the sanctuary, then be sure to get there early enough to claim it. It is unreasonable to ask someone to give up a seat that they are in because you normally sit there. (If the seat is very important to you, then you might consider attending often enough that others know that it is your typical seat!)
Rule 3: Don’t Say Bad Things About God’s People: God warns against gossip and backbiting. Our grandmothers recalled this lesson and tried to teach it to us by saying, ―If you can‘t say something good about someone, don‘t say anything at all.‖ We should try to remember this in all aspects of our lives, but especially in God‘s house.
Rule 1: Honoring God Honors Us: If we keep God‘s commandments, and honor the Lord‘s holy places, then we do honor to ourselves as well.
Rule 2: Enjoy The Worship Service: God‘s house, in the Baptist tradition, is a place to honor God in an evangelical style, where singing, handclapping, vocal praise, and other expressions of being Spirit-filled are expected and accepted.
Rule 3: Dress Appropriately: Many Christian churches have relaxed their rules about dressing for church from the strict adherence to suits and ties for men and boys and dresses and suits for women and girls. While the 21st century Baptist church still tends to be somewhat formal, it recognizes that it is most important for members to be present in worship in a manner that is appropriate and that honors God. To that end, we are expected to wear our very best, whether it be dressy or casual. We should always dress as if we are going to meet someone important (and there is no one more important than God).