Mind Your Manners in Church

Follow proper etiquette in a house of worship

Priest greeting Sunday church worshippers at Ivy covered church in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica.
Alison Wright / Getty Images

Are you thinking about attending a new church, but you're not sure what's expected? Has it been a while since you've attended a worship service? Or do you attend regularly but would like some tips on refreshing your church etiquette? 

Making the decision to go to church is more than simply showing up. You need to understand the importance of proper etiquette in order to avoid disrupting the worship service.

When you attend a church, it is essential that you know the general guidelines and expectations of the organization. Whether you are a member or a guest, you should always be respectful of everything and everyone in attendance. Follow proper protocol so you won't draw attention to yourself or make any church manners faux pas.

Greeting at the Door

You are likely to find greeters at the church doors, so be prepared to shake hands with someone when you enter. Smile, be friendly, and introduce yourself if you have an opportunity. If it is crowded, you might want to wait until after the service is over to socialize.

Late Arrival

Do your best to arrive at church on time, or even better, before the service starts. There may be a traffic snarl or something else that delays you. In most cases, it is okay to enter late, but be as quiet as possible and sit toward the back so you don't interfere with others worshiping.

Voices and Talking

When you first enter the sanctuary, be observant of how others are behaving. Many churches prefer members to enter quietly and remain reverently silent out of respect for God. If the congregation is interacting and being social, by all means feel free to chat.

However, once the service starts, pay attention to the person at the pulpit. Never talk during the sermon or mass. Being a chatterbox will have others walking a wide berth around you to sit in a different pew.

Other Noises

Keep other noises down. Before entering the church, either put your cell phone on silent or turn it off. Not doing so may distract those who came to worship. Don't chew gum because a smacking or popping noise will disrupt the time that people are praying or listening to the preacher or priest.

Dress Appropriately

Before you go to a new church, find out what style of attire people wear. In the past, people wore what was considered their "Sunday finest," but many congregations have opted for a more come-as-you-are service.

Whatever the case, never wear anything too tight or revealing. You also don't need your nightclub bling because all those shiny chains and bracelets can be distracting to other worshipers. You are better off wearing understated jewelry.

Follow Others

All churches have some sort of order of service, even the most casual ones. If you are new to a church, watch what others are doing and follow them. If you are a regular attendee and you see someone who appears lost, give him or her a reassuring smile and offer assistance.

Anyone who has a difficult time kneeling may remain seated when the congregation kneels. Just sit slightly forward in your seat to prevent being in the way of the person kneeling behind you.

Many churches have frequent communion ceremonies. Find out what the policy is on open or close communion before you try to participate. Remember that the bread and wine or grape juice is a sacrament that is to be taken very seriously.

Collection Plate

Members of any church typically feel that it is a privilege to contribute to church missions and ministries by donating money when the collection plate is passed. Most of them don't expect guests to leave money in the plate. However, if you feel so led, you are generally welcome to contribute. It is up to you whether you want to pass, place money in the plate, or send a check at a later date.

Taking Your Children

Find out what the policy is on children attending church before you take them. Some have special youth or children's services in another room so adults can worship with their full attention.

If you are encouraged to bring your little ones into the sanctuary, give them an etiquette lesson before you leave the house. Put a picture book or quiet game in your bag in case your child starts to squirm. Most families with small children are more comfortable sitting in the back in case someone needs to get up during the service.

Be Respectful

One of the most important things you can do when attending church is to be respectful of what you're there for and others around you. Also, being on your best behavior and paying attention to what is going on gives you the opportunity to get the most out of the service.