Q: You recently had some very good advice in your column about the “Do’s and don’ts of funeral etiquette.” Would you please provide the same type of advice for church etiquette?
A: Yes, certainly, and thank you for asking me to do so. Yours is not the first request I have received concerning church etiquette in total, or separate questions pertaining to specific areas of church etiquette or behavior.
I have had the opportunity to discuss this subject with various clergy (ministers, pastors, priests, etc.) in recent months concerning church etiquette and behavior and their opinions as to what they feel are the most important points to stress when it comes to this subject. After all, the last thing one wants to occur is to say something which might embarrass someone and perhaps cause that person to stop attending church. We also need to understand there have been some changes in our societal culture which have impacted not only behavior in businesses, organizations, and schools, but also in the church.
For example, business men complain about how meeting attendees are very disrespectful by being late, talking while they are speaking to them or making a presentation; texting; unwrapping candy; making gurgling noises while drinking water out of a plastic water bottle and then squeezing it; reading other materials brought into the meeting while the speaker is speaking; leaving in the middle of the presentation, to name a few. These types of irritants are also occurring in classrooms, organizational meetings and during church services.
Each clergy individual addresses various issues or areas of concern like these in their own way. Some clergy print a list of appropriate rules of behavior while in the church.
It could be posted on a bulletin board perhaps, included as a separate insert to a church bulletin once a year or in a newsletter; brought up periodically by teachers from a positive perspective in their individual Sunday School classes; or discussed at adult church committee meetings to bring attention to the need for positive reinforcement of proper church behavior. Below is a list of some of the current church etiquette and behavior do’s and don’ts:
1. Don’t be late. Coming in late after the service has started is very rude, disruptive, and disrespectful; therefore, enter as quietly as possible during the singing of a hymn perhaps, rather than in the middle of a prayer, and sit in the back to avoid disrupting others while they are worshiping. Being late means there should not be a grand entrance to sit in your usual pew, second from the front. Try leaving for church a little earlier the next time in case there is a traffic jam or bad weather.
2. Don’t talk during the service. It’s rude, disrespectful and very disruptive.
3. Do not take food, water bottles or coffee into the service. Likewise, don’t unwrap candy or cough drops during the service.
4. Don’t douse yourself in heavy perfume or cologne. There are many people who are allergic to fragrances and even though you are so used to your fragrance and feel it is light, it may cause others to be very uncomfortable.
5. Don’t comb your hair, trim your fingernails, or put on makeup during the service. Stop in at the Restroom to check all these details before the entering into the Sanctuary.
6. Don’t take more seating space than necessary. Your coat should be on the coat rack outside the sanctuary. The same applies to your umbrella.
7. Don’t lose control of your children. This is one of the chief irritants not only with the clergy, but with the other members of the congregation as well. Allowing children to run anywhere inside the church facility; screaming, and talking loudly is not appropriate. Kicking the back of the pew in front of them, crawling on the floor, putting their shoes on the pew seat, eating food and candy, tearing up paper or the bulletin or hymnal, playing with legos, marbles or anything else that is noisy, drawing or coloring on the floor or the pew; playing with iPhones or other technical devices; mistreating hymnals and other items in the pew; bothering others in the pew; and whining should not happen. Children should be taught proper behavior before entering the church. If a small child or baby begins crying, take the child outside to a sitting area, a cry room if there is one, or another room away from the sanctuary.
7a. Don’t discipline your children in church. There is nothing worse than listening to a parent yelling at his or her child when they misbehave. That kind of inappropriate parental “I want to be the center of attention” act has no place in church (or anywhere else for that matter). Parents should have a discussion with their children before they enter church of what kind of behavior is appropriate and what is inappropriate. The parent should also establish a very discreet hand signal or look that when shown to the child, means “Stop it now!”
8. Don’t play “kissy face” in church. While it is wonderful to go to church with the one you love, it is not the place for public displays of affection.
1. Groom yourself and if you have children, make sure they are groomed. That means bathing regularly and using deodorant unless you have some type of allergy. Hair should be clean and combed. Clothes should be clean.
2. Be friendly. Smile. Speak to others. If there is a greeter, shake hands with the greeter and if it is your first time attending, introduce yourself and your family.
3. Dress appropriately: Although some churches have opted for a casual, come-as-you-are policy or philosophy, pajama bottoms, wrinkled and dirty pants and shirts, strapless tops, mini skirts, bare midriffs, uncombed hair, flip flops, pants and tops that are too tight and revealing, short shorts (male and female) are not appropriate.
4. Participate. When asked to stand, stand. When asked to sit down, sit down. When asked to bow your head, bow your head. You don’t have to be the best or loudest singer but when asked to sing, sing or try to sing. Show respect by paying attention and listening.
5. Leave the drama at home: No one wants to listen to anyone rant and rave about the plumber who couldn’t fix the garbage disposal, or the latest terrible thing your boss said to you.
6. Leave the inappropriate or bad language at home: Remember you are in a place of worship when in church. Be respectful to everyone and leave the bad language at home.
7. Pay attention during the entire service. That means turning off your cell phone or turn off the ringer completely. Even the sound of an incoming text is inappropriate.