The art of tour guiding (or herding cats in a church)

DSC_5560Judgement House. Sounds epic doesn’t it? If you’ve been through a Judgement House (yes, the British e is intentional, though I’ve never known why), you know what it is. If you haven’t? Seriously, go find one in your area and get your reservations right away, because by this time they’re probably close to selling out.

When my church first started doing them back in 2000 (gosh, that makes me feel old), people called them an alternative to a haunted house. And I think that may have been how they started, but it’s grown into this beautiful, amazing, miraculous ministry that makes it possible to share faith in a way that’s conversational.

Judgement House is a story. It’s nothing like the Hell Houses of the South, which go to extreme lengths to demonstrate (graphically) what happens with abortions and things of that nature. And it’s not a spook house either, where the point is to scare people.

Judgement House makes you think.

Why I love Judgement House

People waiting to go through Judgement House last year

For me, the two highlights of Judgement House every year are the number of people we get to reach and the way our church works together to make it happen. Every year, we have around 8,000 people come through our Judgement House in little, unassuming Wichita, Kansas. And it takes around 600 volunteers to pull it off.

What’s great about those 600+ volunteers is that many times they don’t know each other. Way back when we first started, when we were a church of 1,200, it was easier to get to know everyone. Now, we average like 7,000 every weekend! So it’s hard to keep track of everybody, and Judgement House is great because you get to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t get to meet.

Tour Guide Central just before performance began last year
Tour Guide Central just before performance began last year

Since 2005, my dad and I have had the amazing opportunity to direct the Tour Guides. The Tour Guides memorize the most lines at Judgement House and have the responsibility to take groups of people (from 25 to 50) through, leading them from room to room and filling in the gaps between scenes. It’s a big job. And we usually like to start out with about 30, because life happens between sign up and performance.

By the time we hit the first actual Judgement House date, we usually have around 22. That’s where we are this year too. And maybe that sounds like plenty, but, trust me, it’s just enough.

One thing I’ve learned after all these years of working with Tour Guides: People are sheep.

No, strike that. They’re not sheep. They’re worse than sheep. They’re cats.

Have you ever tried to get a cat to go where it doesn’t want to go? Have you ever tried to get two cats to go where they don’t want to go? How about 10? Or 20? What about 50?

Yeah, herding cats becomes exponentially more difficult with every cat you add to the group, and Tour Guiding is exactly like that. You’ve got a group of 25 to 50 people, and you’ve got to get them through a single door into a room. It sounds easy. But it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.

Tour Guides rehearsing for Judgement House this year
Tour Guides rehearsing for Judgement House this year

People are timid generally, especially when they’re uncertain about what’s in front of them. Granted, there are some bold ones. But they manage themselves. They aren’t usually interested in helping move the timid ones along. And we’re not even talking about the ones with walkers, canes, or wheelchairs.

It’s wonderful to have each and every one of them. That’s why we do Judgement House. But don’t ever think moving people is easy. And if you happen to be attending a Judgement House, do your poor stressed-out Tour Guide a favor … move quickly and quietly from scene to scene, follow the taped lines as you enter the scene and form at least two lines facing the drama with shorter people in the front so everyone can see… and turn off your freakin’ cell phones, people.

When does it start?

jh_headerThe Judgement House at NewSpring Church in Wichita starts October 15 at 6:30. If you can still get reservations, that’s best, but walk-ins are always welcome. Just expect to have to wait. But if you have to wait, that’s okay. We have an awesome concession stand where you can buy whole pickles, Mt. Dew, and lots and lots of sugar.

It’s Judgement House season, everybody! Hope to see you there!


A.C. Williams

Amy Williams left a lucrative career in marketing to write novels about space cowboys, clumsy church secretaries, American samurai, and alternate dimensions. Along the way, she also discovered a passion for teaching other creative professionals how to use technology to make life easier. Through video instruction or one-on-one coaching, she teaches software, blogging, basic graphic design, and many other useful skills that help creative entrepreneurs get stuff done minus the frustration.

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