Our new chapel had an open house on Friday evening and Saturday morning/afternoon. Those associated with the two Manhattan wards meeting in the new building were encouraged to invite their friends to attend.

The open house offered visitors a tour of the building, some light refreshments (a few different cheeses, crackers, grapes, mineral water) and the opportunity to listen to musical numbers being played and sung in the sacrament meeting room. A few other friends from the bloggernacle were involved as both D. Fletcher and Bill Atkinson showed up to play organ and piano pieces. They did a great job and I had the pleasure of listening to a bit of both sets of performances.

Missionaries and packets of reading materials were available to those who were interested in asking questions. Materials being offered included three different kinds of discussion pamphlets, the Testimony of the Joseph Smith pamphlet, the Restoration DVD, the Proclamation on the Family and Books of Mormon. However, missionary work seemed to be a secondary purpose to this event. Indicative of this is that the full-time missionaries were asked not to stand directly in front of the chapel (for fear that might intimidate visitors). Instead they were stationed at a table in the overflow area where the refreshments were. Missionaries were also assigned to nearby street corners to encourage people to come.

A few things I learned or observed during this process:

1) the value of crowds – it actually helps to have more people present. If a large room is empty or has only a few people, it can be a little scary for people who haven’t been there before. A room seems more welcoming to visitors if there is somewhat of a bustling crowd present, with lots of conversations going on. In other words, having members families present is helpful.

2) Invite your local political leaders and they might come to the event. Charles B. Rangel showed up, was smiling and seemed to be enjoying himself. I saw him talking to some people, thought he looked familiar (having seen him many times on television before), not realizing who he actually was until someone mentioned him after he was gone. Strange how when you see someone familiar in church, you might assume he/she is a church member.

3) Church open houses may attract all kinds of people, and of all ages. At one point on Saturday, I walked up to a corner to talk with the elders about something. I passed a man who was out for a stroll with a young daughter and baby (in a carriage). This little girl, who was maybe four years old at most, was tugging on her father’s sleeve, asking “to visit the new church.”

4) A gentleman I spoke with asked how long visitors would be welcome to the building. At first I didn’t understand that he was confusing the chapel with a temple. The possibility hadn’t even occurred to me. As more and more temple open houses are happening around the world, non-members are learning that Mormons have buildings with restrictions on them. So we need to be prepared to clearly distinguish between chapels (where all visitors are welcome) and temples.

5) Mormons might be as interested in visiting the new building as non-Mormons. A very sizeable percentage of the visitors were LDS. Like many LDS-associated events, a person should anticipate meeting old friends and acquaintances. Besides running into the aforementioned ‘Nacle friends, I was surprised to meet a friend from my old ward as well as someone I knew from my days at BYU.

6) Whether or not it is a main focus, open houses are certainly a missionary opportunity. Our local missionaries received five referrals as a result of the open house.

Note: pictures of the new chapel can be viewed here