(Your Church Can Be Irresistible, Part Three)
“People today are not looking for friendly churches, they’re looking for FRIENDS in churches.” Anonymous
I’ve been writing about how church members can make their congregations irresistible – very attractive – by offering the welcome of God.
We’ve fleshed out three simple propositions:
- God wants every church to offer the welcome of God. This means that we give the kind of welcome – to all who walk in our doors – that God Himself would extend; the kind of welcome that the father in Luke fifteen gave to his returning, prodigal son.
- Giving the welcome of God is simple and inexpensive; even the smallest church can give it.
- In our hostile, angry, isolated, lonely world, the welcome of God is more powerful than ever. There’s very little love out there in the world. People walking into Christian churches should be entering the one place where they will be accepted and welcomed, whatever the outward marks of their “tribal identity.”
Here’s a very brief summary of what I’ve shared about offering the welcome of God:
- It starts with the heart. Only the Holy Spirit can empower us to do this well.
- Church leaders must show the way.
- It demands intentionality. It will only “just happen” in the newest, smallest churches.
- Generic, anonymous words of welcome from greeters and ushers don’t count (at least, not for much).
- Most greetings from the pulpit and nice people at a Welcome Center don’t cut it either.
- Paper, disposable name tags are great; permanent name tags are awful.
- Greeting times (shake your neighbor’s hand times) can be powerful or awful, depending on how they’re done.
My viewpoint is that it has to work. It just isn’t acceptable to let lost and lonely men and women walk through our doors, sit through a good show (a little sarcasm here, I confess), and file out the doors again like they’ve been to a sporting event, a shopping mall or a movie theater. I would think that most unbelieving guests would be thinking: “Is that all this is?”
Sure, there are a few people who want to be ignored while visiting your church. Very few. Even these few need to experience the welcome of God, whether they’re looking for it or not.
Don’t they need love “with skin on”? The Apostles touched and handled (I John one) the Word of Life: Jesus Himself. The Body of Christ on earth today is the church; don’t people need the chance to touch and handle the Body of Christ today?
What kind of message am I sending to my church’s nervous guests if I avoid even making eye contact with them next Sunday morning? If all they’re going to get is “the show,” they might as well stay home and watch the best mega-church’s show online.
With hopes that you are almost convinced, here are some ways that larger churches can offer the welcome of God.
(1) Pastors and other leaders can model warmth. No, the senior pastor can’t know everyone’s name in the larger church, but he can work at it, and by his conscientious effort, set the pace for the rest of the congregation. If he can’t shake every hand at multiple church doors (!) he can at least make himself available for a while, at some point on Sunday morning, at a designated location.
(2) Attendees can be taught to warmly reach out and introduce themselves to those they do not know. Our objection is that it’s embarrassing to introduce ourselves to those who tell us they’ve attended the church for years. The answer to the objection is that it doesn’t really hurt us to have to say, “It’s great to meet you; I’m a member here too.” What matters most here: my embarrassment or a non-Christian guest receiving the welcome of God? Doesn’t “perfect love cast out fear” (I John 4:18)?
Genuinely loving Christians – even introverts like me – will respond to this challenge and sacrifice a bit of their dignity for the sake of welcoming their church’s guests.
(3) Larger churches can employ “roving greeters” who are on the lookout for new or lonely faces. A lot of encouragement and a little training is all that is needed to make this happen.
(4) Larger churches can recruit section or “row greeters” who adopt an assigned seating area, looking for new folks or anyone else they don’t recognize.
(5) Larger churches can and should always have at least one small group or class available for those who have just begun attending the congregation. A small group with a constant influx of new faces is not ideal, but it’s better than telling newcomers that they’ll have to wait for months to be able to get into a group. Why not make this group an ever-cycling “introduction to the faith and/or the church” group? Newbies could begin attending it at any time, learn about the church and make a few new friends.
(6) Church leaders can make the most of monthly welcome receptions, orientation and membership classes. “Making the most” involves shaking hands, learning names, projecting warmth and modeling all of this for the sake of all who are watching them.
May God bless you – and He will – as you offer your guests the welcome of God!