Many modern churches have adopted a more casual attitude towards etiquette and dress code. However, a certain amount of decorum is still expected from church members and visitors. Etiquette, simply defined, is the expected and proper way of behaving in a specific situation. Church etiquette, whether during a weekly service or special occasion, is mostly common sense.
Arriving at least five minutes early is even better than arriving on time. Latecomers should enter the church quietly. (Do not let the door slam.) Latecomers should wait patiently in the back, waiting to find a seat until a break in the service. If you are late, the best time to choose a seat is during a song.
It is impolite to claim the aisle seat, or end of the pew, just because it is your favorite spot. This is especially true when the service is crowded. Church etiquette dictates that you slide to the center of the pew, allowing plenty of room and easy access to those arriving next. This is especially helpful to latecomers who may need to slip in quickly and unobtrusively.
It is not polite to leave in the middle of a dinner party. It would insult your host. Likewise, it is rude to leave during a worship service. If an appointment or another commitment will force you to leave early, it is best to choose another service time. If communion is served, it is a breach of church etiquette to leave after receiving communion. Return to your seat, and wait for the service to end.
A church service is not a trip to the movies. It is rude and distracting to the people around you to hear the crinkles, rustles and crunching that goes along with snacking. It is acceptable for parents with infants and toddlers to offer the young ones a bottle or small, quiet snack. But church etiquette dictates that school-age children and adults should be able to make it through an hour-long service without food.
A blaring ring tone of "Surfin' Bird" will disrupt any church service. Cell phones should be set to silent during services. In addition, texting during a service is as impolite as having a conversation with your pew mate. Save the chatter for the designated fellowship time after the service.
Parents or grandparents should keep small children from climbing or standing on the seats, running in the aisle and making disruptive noises. It is not good church etiquette to have handheld games that beep, boop or boom. Set them to silent, or leave them at home. (Crayons and coloring books are more acceptable choices for fidgety little ones.)
Many churches offer childcare or hold Sunday school classes during the service (or at least the sermon). These allow parents to worship distraction-free, and give kids a special experience of their own.
Come-as-you-are or casual services do not mean you can roll out of bed in pajama pants and a tank top. Basic church dress code etiquette calls for attire that is not ripped, stained or emblazoned with any picture or saying that can be considered offensive. Women, especially young girls, should avoid blouses or dresses that are low-cut or that expose an ample amount of cleavage. Likewise, miniskirts that expose several inches of thigh are not appropriate for church. Untucked shirts, messy hair, flip-flops or thoroughly wrinkled clothes would not pass most churches' unwritten dress codes.
While jeans are accepted attire in many churches today, they should be clean, rip-free and not skin-tight. A gentleman dressed in nice jeans with a belt and polo-style shirt with casual shoes is an example of acceptable church attire.
The first time you attend a particular church, it is polite to wear classic office attire until you are able to determine the level of casualness accepted. Save the jeans for next time if you find that many others are wearing them. You'll stand out in a way you'd rather not if everyone else is wearing the Sunday best (nice dresses, heels; jackets and ties) and you show up in well-worn jeans.
Good manners, etiquette and appropriate dress will never go out of style for anyone attending a church service. Using common sense will keep most attendees from breaking basic church etiquette rules. If you ever wonder what may or may not be appropriate in your church, or one you plan to visit, call the church office and ask for clarification.
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