Are We a Friendly Congregation?
While we must be concerned with doing what we do in worship according to Christ’s expressed will, we must also be sure to reflect His love to strangers, newcomers, outsiders, and otherwise unfamiliar faces.
It offends my sensitivities anytime I hear anyone complain that a church I love so much seems cold and unfriendly to them. However, when I see so many focused on one another or on no one or hear accounts of our visitors complaining that we are neither warm nor welcoming, that love motivates me to say something. Please consider the following principles:
We must stop expecting that others will represent us in friendliness. Maybe we look at those seven or eight members of the congregation that “go after” our visitors and conclude that they are covering the bases for the rest of us. In a congregation our size, that is woefully inadequate. They cannot reach everybody, but even if they can their friendliness does not let us off the hook. Dear reader, the chances are great that I am challenging you!
We must not use our introverted nature as an excuse. It would be hard to get an accurate estimate, but it is probably fair to say that more of our members are introverted than extroverted. Yet, the introverts may mistakenly conclude that extroverts are merely doing what comes easy and natural to them. As a representative of the extrovert clan, may I suggest that reaching out and connecting with strangers and visitors requires effort. Everyone must make an effort!
We must avoid the thinking that the visitor bears responsibility to be friendly. Some visitors may be outgoing and find it easy to connect with us, but we are the hosts and they are the guests. Think about how hard it is to come into an unfamiliar place where you know no one and reach out to them. This is our “home turf,” and we must always take the initiative!
We must practice the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Again, put yourself in their shoes. Treat them how you would want to be treated if in their place.
We must see ourselves as direct representatives of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:20). Treat visitors exactly like Jesus would. Seek them out and do everything within your power to let them know how glad you are they are here.
We must understand the eternal implications of being friendly to visitors. Would not it be awful if we contributed to seekers, new Christians, and the like being discouraged, even to the point of walking away from Christ and His truth? We cannot minimize the eternal impact, for good or ill, we make by how we do in this matter.
We must break out of our ruts and routines. What creatures of comfort we are! What I am talking about requires us getting uncomfortable and changing our current habits. Avoiding eye contact, walking past unfamiliar faces, withdrawing into ourselves, talking only to those who talk to us or those we feel comfortable with may be the niche we have carved for ourselves over a long period of time. Confront those well-established patterns and insist on breaking them.
I want our congregation to be known for preaching and teaching the truth, but I want far more for us. Another thing I want is for us to be the church that doesn’t just embrace and accept “our own,” but who is always making room for one more. I’d far rather risk creeping someone out by bombarding them with extreme warmth than to turn a cold shoulder to one who was trying to connect with God. Wouldn’t you? —Neal Pollard, Denver, Colorado
“Show himself friendly” (Proverbs 18:24).
Think about it
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” —Elinor Smith
Alex Haley once said that the best way to begin a speech is Let me tell you a story. Nobody is eager for a lecture, but everybody loves a story.
—Walter Isaacson on the success of Steve Jobs Stanford 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech
The Rolls Royce drove into the cemetery. The driver told the man at the entrance house, “Would you come out to see the lady in the car? She is too ill to walk.”
Waiting in the car was a frail, elderly woman. “I am Mrs. Adams,” she said. “Every week for the last two years I have been sending you five dollars to spend on flowers for my son’s grave. The doctors tell me I don’t have much longer. I’ve come to thank you.”
He smiled and said, “You know, ma’am, I’m sorry that you kept sending the money for the flowers.”
“Sorry?” she exclaimed.
“Yes, because dead people never see them,” he answered.
Her face showed surprise and hurt.
He continued, “I belong to a visiting society: insane asylums, state hospitals, and the like. People in those places dearly love flowers. They can see them and smell them. Lady, there are living people in places like that.”
She sat silent for a moment. Then signaled her driver to drive on. Months later, she came back . . . but looking younger, and driving the car herself. “I take the flowers to the people myself,” she explained with a friendly smile.
“You were right: it does make them happy. And it makes ME happy. The doctors don’t know what is making me well. But I do: I have something to live for.”
She had re-discovered what we all know and forget: in helping others, she had helped herself. —Glenn Hitchcock
“Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).