Ignoring the Visitors

Since my wife and I have been on a journey the last few years trying to connect with a good church we have noticed a common problem with churches in this area. I suspect that it exists far beyond the boundaries of Upstate New York as well, based on things I have read in other publications. What is this problem? Most churches are not friendly! They really are ignoring the visitors. Check out this cartoon. It has a lot to say about this very real weakness.

Now most pastors will dispute that statement because they think having trained greeters at the door makes them a friendly church. Hey, Walmart has greeters, too, but that doesn’t make them a friendly store! When you go to the electronics department and are ignored by the staff or when the the associates won’t even make eye contact with you, that’s an unfriendly store. So it is with a church. A greeting  is not an indication of  friendliness. If the people in the church keep mostly to their own groups (cliques), then the church is not friendly. A “hug time” after worship or “greet one another” handshake ritual doesn’t make the church friendly either. That’s just another empty tradition. It’s how people treat you before and after the service or at other church events that determines the quality of the friendliness.

I have attended some places for months and never got more than the “religious” greetings. But just like in the cartoon above, when the people were hanging out with each other, I was lucky if one or two people even tried to make conversation. I even worked at a church for almost two years and most of the people totally ignored me on Sunday unless they needed something from me related to my job. Very few of them treated me in a friendly way, but I would still get “greeted” at the front door. Big deal. I wasn’t at Walmart! I was in the House of God where people are supposed to be connected to one another like the joints, limbs and ligaments of a human body. That example, from the Apostle Paul  and the Prophet Ezekiel in Scriptures, indicates a closeness and connection that goes beyond a greeting and past the fake religious platitudes.

Now many churches today have small groups where they are supposed to build relationships. That’s great and that may work for most people, but in our corporate gathering, why can’t the church be friendly, especially to new people? Because we are not trained and/or we don’t care! So many Christians, and sad to say many leaders, are all wrapped up in themselves. What’s in this service for me? What will make me feel better? What will people do for me? Small groups are not the answer for every situation. Not everybody can attend one. Some live too far away or have business or family responsibilities that make it almost impossible to attend. So will they just be left out and ignored? What’s wrong with teaching people to get out of their cliques and care about people on Sunday?

So am I guilty of the same thing? Am I just asking people to be nice to me and make me feel good? No. That’s not why I go to church. I go to connect with God. But let me tell you something, I won’t stay in a place where I don’t connect with people. The church is supposed to be about people coming together to worship and serve God. It’s not about people just gathering as independent “carbon based units” (i.e. humans) to sing a few songs, listen to somebody preach and get home as quickly as you can.

Pastors, stop bragging about how your church is a “family” when nobody gives a rip about the newcomers. Stop looking at new people as potential givers and a body you can count to measure the growth of your church and the supposed effectiveness or your ministry. Do whatever it takes to make newcomers feel like a part!!

Now look, I know there is such a thing as shyness. I have that weakness in my own life. I don’t really know how to talk to strangers very well. But really, can we use that excuse for a whole church? Is everybody shy? I think not. I think the problem is that we don’t create the proper atmosphere of friendliness. In the right atmosphere I have no problem opening up to people. The truth is, somebody has to reach out. When visitors come to a church the responsibility is always first upon the church that is being visited. Teach the people how to be proactive and genuinely care about the visitors. If you don’t, most won’t stay. If you don’t care about that, if you are content with the size and make up of your church, then fine, don’t change. Enjoy your “club” because that’s what it is……a club, not a church. A real church is dynamic: always growing, always reaching out, always looking for ways to improve itself, always trying to find ways to be inclusive….not exclusive.

Far too many people are very exclusive when it comes to their church. They like it just the way it is and they don’t want anybody coming in to mess it up. “Us 4 and no more” is the rallying cry of the contented church. We have our groups, committees, leaders, core group, and we don’t need new comers trying to horn in on our stuff. I’ve even heard of a Christian group that doesn’t let people come unless they are invited to attend after being approved by the others. These attitudes do not reflect the heart of Jesus Christ, regardless of how spiritual you think you are. The church is all about outreach, not in reach. Get your nose out of your own belly button and start reaching out to people! That’s what true Christianity is all about.

So make a commitment to Christ today that you will personally make every effort to reach out to the visitors and act like a friend. It’s not what you say that makes you a friendly person, it’s what you DO!

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