I visited a church recently. It was a good church. The Bible readings were good. The Bible teaching was outstanding. The prayers were good. But my experience was not great. It was not a welcoming church.
When I walked into the front door of the church, there was no sign and there was no one there to guide visitors to where they should go. In this large church complex I couldn’t see where the congregation was. As I walked further in there were a bunch of people milling about who were from another congregation. I stopped and looked around. Where was this congregation I was looking for?! I kept searching and down a corridor I found it. Not a great start.
It was a small church (about 40 people). During morning tea I looked around for someone to talk to. Everyone seemed paired off, or in small groups with their friends, and I was ignored. I tried catching people’s eyes – to no avail. I smiled and said hello directly to someone and he looked at me and kept walking. I hung around, fairly obviously, hoping someone would greet me, since I had never been to this congregation before. No one did. I gave up and went for a walk.
This was a good church by all accounts. But its unfriendliness and unwelcoming attitude to visitors spoke volumes. The message received was: “You are going to have to work hard to break in here.” What a shame. If I was looking for a church I wouldn’t go back to it.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me lately, but I’m going to praise our church again! Churches (and individuals) have strengths and weaknesses. One of the strengths of our church is how welcoming it is. As the pastor I watch people. Older folk in their 70s and 80s go out of their way to talk to younger people. Everyone seems to make a bee-line for visitors to offer a smile, a warm-handshake, and to engage them in conversation.
Welcoming is so important! Everyone at our church is on the front line on Sunday. The pastor alone can’t do the work of welcoming everyone who comes to visit our congregation.
People who visit our church comment on how warm and friendly the welcome is. It makes them feel at home. I’m so glad that our folk are like this!
Of course there are more important things to church than welcoming (such as the Bible reading and teaching). However welcoming can be crucial. That first impression when visiting can make all the difference as to whether people come back or not.
I don’t think people have to be trained how to welcome (though at some churches it might help!). It’s great to see mature, godly, Christians just do the right thing. That is, they don’t just talk to their friends, but work together to help the visitor feel welcome and find his or her way.
Well done Hills Bible Church! Keep up the good work.