Last week I wrote about how church members can make their congregations irresistible by offering their fellow attendees the welcome of God. Click here for Your Church Can Be Irresistible.
Why? Because all of us need friends and almost all of us KNOW that we need friends. In their wonderful book, Lost In America, Warren Bird and Tom Clegg maintained that, more than ever, Americans are looking for transcendence (an experience of something that is “out of this world”), purpose (something worth living for) and community (an experience of real friendship). The Church should never be bashful about its mission, for we have Divine resources for offering all three of these in abundance.
Last week I made my case with three simple propositions:
- God wants every church to offer the welcome of God. This means that we extend 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 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.
So here’s what offering the welcome of God can look like, in concrete terms:
(1) It starts with the heart. God calls upon us to love, even our enemies (Matthew 5:44), and some of them actually walk through the doors of our churches! We can only do this, of course, through the love, the heart, of God Himself, beating in our breasts (Philippians 1:8). We need not try to squeeze it out of our flesh; the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) delivers the love of God from heaven.
Moving on to step two without the Holy Spirit’s empowerment won’t fool anyone for long. But here’s good news: Compelling preaching causes God’s people to long for the experience of loving the lost with the love of God.
(2) Church leaders must show the way. Pastor: Don’t hide in your study before the service. Get out there and shake some hands. If you don’t want to stand at the door at the close of the service, find yourself a spot where people can seek you out to meet or chat with you. If you choose to not do that, make a “bee line” for those you spot in the congregation whom you don’t know. You can expect others to follow your example.
(3) It demands intentionality. It would be nice if Spirit-filled people just naturally provided the welcome of God, but it doesn’t happen. Church leaders must model it and teach it, carefully, intentionally, persistently, year after year. As with evangelism, when you stop teaching it, your followers will stop practicing it. There are churches that still think they’re warm and friendly five years after they’ve actually turned inward.
(4) Generic, anonymous greetings from greeters and ushers don’t count. The welcome of God “kicks in” when “generic” church members show personal attention to guests. Introduce yourself. Ask them their names (write them down as soon as you walk away so that you’ll remember them). Ask them if they are new to the area. Introduce them to others (but not too many). Invite them to a “second step” event like a class or a small group. Mean it. Give them directions to the location of the group you are inviting them to. Give them your contact information. Asking them out (or over) for a meal, right after the worship service, is powerful.
(5) Most greetings from the pulpit and nice people at a “Welcome Center” don’t cut it. You can’t bypass #4 above. People don’t want your little gift bags. If you’re going to use them, make sure there’s something valuable and useable inside. Let me back up a moment: an exceptionally warm, personable welcome from the pulpit (from the person who does this best) is worth something, but not much compared to #4 above.
(6) Generic, paper, disposable name tags are great. I have used these in several churches and while it sounds like a corny idea, almost everyone loved using them. That’s because, in truth, even veteran church goers struggle with remembering each other’s names. Do not under any circumstances use permanent, lanyard type name tags for your members with paper ones for your guests! This sends the strongest imaginable “in-group/out-group” signal.
(7) Greeting times can be powerful, if the church’s leaders work at making them powerful. I know that the statistics say that people hate them but that’s because they’re usually done so poorly. There’s nothing like an uncomfortable stranger turning around and offering you a “cold fish” handshake with a heartless greeting!
But done well, they can be great. “Done well” means that (1) attendees are not given awkward things to say to strangers (2) somebody works tirelessly at making sure that veteran attendees ignore their friends and greet those they don’t know (3) the whole church is taught tirelessly about giving the welcome of God (4) shy folks are allowed to stay where they are and be “terrified” (if you make a little joke out of this, no one will be offended).
I know that some churches deliberately ignore their guests, thinking that they want to be left alone. I don’t buy it. I’ve only known one person, ever, who complained that she was “over-greeted.” (Hope you’re not reading this, mom.)
I am open to your objections and suggestions, but I know from my experience with several churches of various sizes that giving the welcome of God is possible and powerful. I’ve never seen a church that offered the welcome of God that did not grow.