Why You Should Treat Your Guests Like Cancer Patients

Hosptial Bed
What would your guests say about the way your church treated them? (Stock Free Images)

“Dr. Arn, your biopsy came back positive. I’m afraid you have prostate cancer.”

I thought he must have been talking to someone else in the room. But we were alone ... and the doctor was looking straight at me.

“Are you sure?” was all I could think of to say.

“Well, you are certainly welcome to get another opinion. But these biopsies are seldom wrong.”

“So, now what?” I asked, which led to a 20-minute conversation about what this newly discovered disease was, how far advanced it might be and what the options were.

To make a long story short, three months after the biopsy report, I had an IV in my arm and was being wheeled down the hallway at the City of Hope Medical Center to what would be a three-hour surgery. (Robotic-assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy, to be exact.)

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For those of you (men) who have been there and done that, I won’t remind you. For those who haven’t, I won’t bore you. But as I think back on the events of the past three months, I’d like to share with you what I learned from hospital staff, doctors, nurses and even patients at the City of Hope about being a newcomer.

I realize that a cancer hospital may not be the first place you would look for insights on welcoming church visitors and new members. But then again, maybe there are more similarities than we might think.

1. Anticipating Uncertainty

Turning into the hospital driveway, I came upon a kiosk with a large sign: INFORMATION. I stopped, rolled down the window and received a warm welcome from the man inside. I was given a brochure of the hospital, a map and a letter from the CEO, and I was told of the complimentary valet parking for first-time guests.

Application questions: What and where is the first contact you have with your newcomers? Do you control that contact and make a good first impression, or do you just hope that it happens?

2. The Welcome Center

“First time?” I was asked by a smiling lady as I entered the lobby. It must have been my body language. I’ve been told that a good host can spot a newcomer a mile away.

“Yes,” I responded.

She escorted me to the welcome desk, where three people stood ready to help. After explaining that my wife and I were there to see a certain doctor, the host called a man over and told him where we needed to go. Bill introduced himself as a volunteer and said, “Just stick with me and I’ll show you the quickest way.” I learned in our hallway conversation that Bill was an 11-year veteran who had fought and won the same battle in which I was now engaged. I felt an instant bond and wanted to ask him a dozen questions.

Application questions: Do you have volunteers available to help guests find their way? Do you match newcomers with members who share things in common?

3. “We Are Family Here”

More than once I heard this phrase spoken by staff, volunteers and patients. The words appear in the hospital’s literature and billboards around town. After my surgery, I reflected on the value of family. My wife had taken time off work; my mom and sister had visited me after surgery. Other family members around the country had kept in regular contact.

The faith, hope and love one finds in a healthy family is a particular blessing in times of need. I thought about those patients who had no spouse to push their wheelchair, no parents or children to visit and pray for them. The City of Hope motto—“We are family here”—makes sense, especially for those who don’t have any other.

Application questions: Do you intentionally nurture a sense of family (i.e., care, support, love) in your congregation? Do newcomers experience it, or is it just for the old-timers?

4. Someone to Hold Your Hand

On the second visit, I was introduced to my “patient navigator” and given his email address and direct phone number. If I had questions, he either knew the answer or would find the right person to call me back. In addition, I received a directory of names and contact information for key people in the hospital.

Application questions: Do your new members have someone to help them get involved and connected in the early stages of their relationship with your church? More members drop out in their first year than any other time.

5. A Connection Center

In a 20’ x 40’ open area, plus several private conference rooms, information was available on various support groups that were sponsored by the hospital. A variety of free minibooks were provided on anything related to cancer. I was given a flyer and explanation of when and where the next prostate cancer workshop would be held. There were free DVDs of staff physicians giving lectures on various topics.

Times for the new patient/family orientation were posted. I could pick out a Christmas ornament, hat or scarf from a collection that had been handmade by volunteers for patients/families. Here I discovered that a social worker had been assigned to me, and a volunteer walked me down the hall for a pleasant introduction.

Application questions: How do you introduce your church’s ministries, groups and activities to newcomers? Do you have descriptive literature and knowledgeable volunteers to help newcomers connect to places, people and events?

6. Places to Contribute

Sitting in the lobby waiting for my blood work, I was surprised to hear the melodic notes of a harp. (My first thought, as you might suspect, was to check and be sure I wasn’t in heaven.) It turned out the harpist was a volunteer who had been sharing her talent with patients for the past seven years.

Application questions: Do you have positions where church members can contribute their gifts and skills toward the mission of your church? Create roles that complement the strengths that your members already have.

Well, there is more to say than I have space or you have time. So, here are just a few final observations:

  • Great signage all over campus. Do newcomers know how to get where they want to go in your church?
  • My wife loved the creative and tasteful decorations. How is the interior décor in your facility?
  • Literature available in multiple locations. Why limit visitor information to one place in your church?
  • Floors, windows and walls were spotless. How would the cleanliness of your buildings compare to a hospital?
  • website full of helpful information. What do prospective visitors think about your church based on your website?
  • A billboard near our house says, “At City of Hope, we live to cure prostate cancer.” How does your church communicate who you are and what you’re all about to the community?
  • Volunteers and staff seemed like they actually enjoyed what they were doing. What’s the attitude your people bring to church?

In my postoperative consultation a week after surgery, the doctor looked carefully at the test results, then turned to me and said: “You’re cancer free.” I must admit that as those words sunk in, I could not hold back tears. It was probably a variety of emotions. But as I look back on that moment, I recall the joy of realizing that I was free from the ravaging effects of cancer.

I can’t help but compare the experience to the joy of realizing that, through Christ, we are free from the ravaging effects of sin. And while a good hospital facilitates the healing of our physical body, a good church should facilitate the healing of our spiritual body. More than one person has shed tears of joy upon realizing that they have been healed by Christ … for eternity!

"When Jesus heard this, he told them, 'Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come not to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are a sinner.'” (Mark 2:17, NLT).

Dr. Charles Arn serves as president of the American Society of Church Growth, an association of professors, executives, pastors, and consultants dedicated to the study of evangelism and church growth. His newest book, What Every Pastor Should Know, was published by Baker Books in 2013.

For the original article, visit pastors.com.

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