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Becoming A Welcoming Church - Part 3

Several years ago Kristen and I visited a church steeped in the Reformed tradition. We knew they would enthusiastically celebrate Reformation Sunday. We fully expected to hear a stirring rendition of "A Mighty Fortress." Surely the sermon would be about justification by faith. We were excited to attend!

We arrived about 10 minutes early (most visitors arrive early), walked through the lobby and past many "holy huddles" into the sanctuary. No one greeted us except the usher who said, "Good morning," and handed us a bulletin. We sat down in a small but pretty sanctuary with about 50 others. No one spoke to us until a gentleman approached. He didn't introduce himself. He merely asked, "Are you visiting this morning?" I stood and said, "Yes," and introduced myself. He promptly told me that we could not take communion because neither of us were members of the church. That was it.

We couldn't wait to leave.

Out of courtesy we stayed. The sermon was decent. The liturgy was nice. But they sang a different (and far inferior, in my opinion) arrangement of "A Mighty Fortress." And we felt unwelcome.

We will never visit there again.

From countless interviews with church visitors Dr. Thom Rainer tells us (Becoming A Welcoming Church, p. 18-20) that the worst part of a visitor's experience generally occurs right before the worship service begins. It happens when they sit in the sanctuary or auditorium and no one speaks to or sits with them: "That, in essence, is one of the surprises we heard from guests. Even in incredible churches, very few members make the effort to greet and speak to someone already seated before the service begins. And frankly, most church members don't ever go sit with guests."

No one sat with us either. But I will give them credit for one thing: someone did speak to us. We just didn't like what he had to say.

Let's be a welcoming church!

Posted by Jim Bachmann

Becoming A Welcoming Church - Part 2

We are now approximately 10 weeks away from moving to our permanent location. While we won't have a sanctuary or youth center (yet) we will have a welcoming spirit! I met a first-time visitor Sunday who told me, after the service, that we "knocked it out of the park" in terms of welcoming her. Let's keep it up!

Dr. Thom Rainer (Becoming a Welcoming Church, p. 6-7) writes of a couple that had a far different experience in another church. Ryan and Bethany agreed to visit and "give it a try" with their two young daughters. So they did. Once. Not twice. 

Interviewed later, in their own words, they said the church website was "terrible." It had not been updated to reflect the new time of the worship service. Consequently they arrived late. Church members had taken all the close parking spots. Supposedly there were guest parking spots but Ryan could not find them. At the front door two greeters spoke to them "for at least two seconds...then resumed their private conversation." When they went to the children's area to check in their two young daughters the area was dirty, security was weak, and the person who met them "complained that they were late." No wonder they never returned.

However, Dr. Rainer says the most surprising thing occurred when he surveyed many members of this same church: "When we interviewed members of this church, they consistently proclaimed a similar message: our church is very friendly!"

And herein is the problem in many churches. Church members perceive themselves as friendly – and they are – with each other. But they seldom put themselves in the shoes of a first-time visitor. The questions, the insecurities, even the fears that visitors have are often forgotten. A welcoming church anticipates these things, warmly assists newcomers, calms their fears, and authentically welcomes them into the church family.

Posted by Jim Bachmann

Becoming A Welcoming Church

I want to talk briefly about the book we have given you, Becoming A Welcoming Church.  It is important that we welcome strangers and visitors. One of the things that struck me about the book was the statement, "Here is the reality: what takes place in the first ten minutes when a first-time guest arrives will largely determine whether he or she returns."

I agree. And I like that—if for no other reason than it takes the preacher off the hook, to some degree! The best sermon will likely not overcome the first ten minutes if those minutes are unpleasant. Therefore what happens in the parking lot is critical. Is adequate parking available? Is there clear signage? Are visitor parking areas clearly marked? Is the front door unlocked? (I recall one Christmas Eve service at my former church where the front door remained locked until the prelude!) Are greeters talking amongst themselves in a "holy huddle" or are they intentionally available to welcome the visitor and offer assistance?

Far too often we attend church preoccupied with our own desires: will my friends be there? Will the sermon be good? Will the children be well cared-for? This is normal, but to be a welcoming church, we must also cultivate a desire to serve, love, welcome, and encourage others, especially those who are new among us. It is a gospel issue! Welcoming visitors is one obvious way we love our neighbor as ourselves.

Posted by Jim Bachmann

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