“So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it!” –Romans 15:7, The Message
Wednesday was my birthday, and as per the custom of Facebook, I got birthday wishes and greetings galore, including many such greetings from some of you. I was grateful for the “Happy Birthday”s and words of appreciation and encouragement, both from those who are genuine friends as well as those who are merely Facebook “friends.”
I think the last comment I got late Wednesday night was a private message from a friend I have known for thirty years. She messaged me privately to wish me happy birthday, but also wanted to take the opportunity to share something else with me. It wasn’t exactly the words I was hoping to cap off my birthday with, but such is life.
She said that her mother had come to our church recently, and was surprised at how few people even spoke to her. She had heard that our church was very friendly, but that was certainly not the experience she had. She said she felt “very distant” from the people around her, and described her visit as “disconcerting.” And her daughter just wanted me to know. I wrote back to thank her for the birthday wishes, and to tell her mother I was sorry for her experience, and I hoped she would come back and give us another shot.
What if she does? I would like to think that she just “fell through the cracks” on the Sunday she attended, but how do I know that she might not have the same experience next time as well. If she decides to come back, will she find our church to be warm and kind and friendly to outsiders? Will she be greeted by someone other than the assigned greeters at the door, who hand out bulletins along with a handshake and a smile? Will the people on the row next to her introduce themselves to her, welcome her to our church, and even invite her to a Life Group or Small Group?
I read a blog a few weeks back by Thom Rainer entitled “Top Ten Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests.”At the top of the list was “Having a stand up and greet one another time in the worship service,” and second was “Unfriendly church members.” In other words, people don’t want a contrived, inauthentic greeting time when they come to a church, awkwardly orchestrated from the stage to create a psuedo-welcoming environment for visitors. But they do want people to be genuinely kind and friendly to them when they take the step to try out our worship service.
As I have stated before, everyone thinks their church is a friendly church, but the real question is, do outsiders feel that way? I shared in ReGroup a few weeks back about attending a church once with my young family that seemed to go out of their way to be unfriendly, only to be handed a “gift” as a visitor. It was a pen with the church’s name on it, with the inscription below: “The end of your search for a friendly church.”
I think most of us believe we have a unique loving fellowship at Shelby Crossings, but I wonder if our guests would agree How much do you, as a member or regular attender of our church, make the effort each week to welcome unfamiliar faces, meet new people, and make them feel at home? Let me say it another way: If everyone greets a guest the same way you do, will that guest feel welcome?
It’s a point we make often around here, that the church is not a building, nor even a worship service, but a people, a family. Weare the church. Youare the church. And how friendly and welcoming the church is, is determined by how friendly you are.
So let me challenge you to step out of your comfort zone this coming Sunday and to be on the lookout for guests, or even regulars that you’ve never met. Introduce yourself, make a new friend, sit down next to them, invite them to lunch afterwards even. Just don’t leave our gathering for worship without being as welcoming to others as Jesus Christ has been to you.
I am praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.