I was about 21 years old when I began looking for a church to join. I don’t see myself as being shy but I remember the mental anguish I went through trying to connect with people who did not want to connect with me in the churches I visited. I particularly remember one such episode. I gave it my best effort for four straight weeks but after working hard to engage some people one week and feeling like I was intruding into some impenetrable social club the next few weeks, it was too much, and I moved on.
This little story is one that is played out in churches every Sunday morning across Melbourne, and it should not be so. I am happy to say that on another occasion, at another church, the reaction to my “intrusion” was the complete opposite. Like my previous experience I was warmly welcomed at the door, but unlike my disappointing experience I was naturally engaged by a friendly couple who even invited me to stay for lunch after the service to introduce me to others.
I have experienced firsthand what it means for a church to ignore the newcomer and what it means to welcome them. While I often feel on a Sunday I miss more newcomers than engage, I never ever regret making the effort. In one sense, it is more comfortable and less taxing to stick with the people we know, but it is not as rewarding. How might we make Sunday mornings a little less comfortable for ourselves but much more beneficial for the wider body of Christ? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Look out for newcomers
There is a sense that to be on the lookout for the newcomer is to have the heart of God. God commanded Israel not to oppress the sojourner in their midst but to love them and treat them as one of their own (Lev 19:34). Why? Because “you know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Ex 23:9). I think we all know what it is like to feel that we don’t belong. We have been learning from Ephesians that, before Christ, we were strangers and aliens to God and His people (Eph 2:19), until Christ left the glory of heaven and met us in our condemnation and brought us into His family. Without Christ making the move we would be eternally lost.
Every week we have people coming into our midst who are either searching for Jesus or searching for a place to call home. There are also those among us who have more perseverance than I did at the age of 21 and have still not been truly embraced. Beloved, Jesus promised that people will know that we are His disciples for our love for each other (John 13:35). Surely, one of the greatest forms of love is to befriend the neighbour when we see them in need, and not to make excuses and turn the other way, as seen in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
This is a call for all of us. Be on the lookout for the person standing or sitting alone and don’t underestimate the impact you will have on that person’s life by caring enough to cross the floor to welcome them into the church family.
2. Be ready to leave your friend for the newcomer
The metaphors Scripture uses to describe the church are many. But one of those that I love is the metaphor that pictures the church as an army. Paul calls Epaphroditus his fellow soldier (Phil 2:25) and encourages the church at Philippi to continue, like soldiers on the front lines, to strive “side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil 1:27).
As we gather together on Sundays and deeply enjoy the strong bonds of friendship we share with others, let us do so, not with our backs turned to the needs of others, but with our eyes engaged and a readiness and willingness to say to our friend, “Hey, I think that person standing alone over there is new. Let’s introduce ourselves!”. That is part of what it means to strive together for the faith of the gospel.
3. Introduce newcomers to others
Lastly, let’s follow the example of Barnabas. In Acts 9:26-27 we read that Saul (the Apostle Paul) was under suspicion and outside the church in Jerusalem. It took Barnabas, known as the “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36), to go to him and bring him into the church at Jerusalem where Saul was accepted and welcomed.
What makes Barnabas’ example so powerful is that he didn’t just introduce himself to Saul but introduced Saul to others in the church, which allowed others to welcome him in and minister to his needs. Barnabas harnessed the gifts of the body to serve the newcomer and we can do the same.
So, this Sunday, we have the exciting opportunity to be used by God in a most powerful way. This simple act of love to not leave the newcomer alone may not seem too impactful to you, but it will be immensely impactful to the person you willingly serve. May the Lord make us eager participants in the life of His church this Sunday and in the days ahead.
Thanks for this excellent reminder, Pastor Craig!
Craig Baxter (Author)
Thank you Fran for your feedback.
If not for the distance, I’d be going to this church just based on the above blog by the pastor. What practical Christianity!
Craig Baxter (Author)
Thanks for taking time to write. Lord bless!