Our family visits different churches when we are on holidays. Sometimes we have wonderful, profound, moving , life-enhancing experiences. Other times . . . (make up your own words)
I will never forget visiting a church in the Pacific Northwest. It was a beautiful church of our own denomination in a seaside city. It seemed to have so much going for it. The community was growing. The economy was good. It was in a prime location on a main road. The ocean vistas were breathtaking. What more could they need to build an effective ministry?
We showed up at the church. No one greeted us, ever. Not even the Pastor. Not even during the welcome time. It felt like a death had just taken place. They had two hymnals, two supplements and one service bulletin. They didn’t tell us what was going on. I kept on trying to find which hymnal or supplement to use. I didn’t know when to stand or when to sit. I felt like a cork on a wave-tossed ocean. In fact, as I looked out the church window at the wave-tossed ocean I really wanted to be there instead. I was completely lost, unwelcome and uncomfortable.
Now, I’ve been in many churches just like this. So, what was the difference between this church and the many others? The difference was my reaction. Halfway through the service I lost my cool, crossed my arms and harrumphed onto the pew like a cantankerous old man with corns on his toes.
Here I was, a minister who travels around the world, sharing of the goodness of God acting like a hormone-enriched teenager. The worse thing is that I was doing this in front of my children. I wasn’t exactly a Godly example. I spent a few minutes in the truck after the service going through a time of "confession of sins" before my wife and children – and there were many that morning. Fortunately, they extended absolution.
What had bothered me so much?
What bothered me was not so much that the church wasn’t welcoming to my family or myself. Any musician gets used to being unwelcomed and after this many years I've developed some coping skills.
What truly bothered me was that I knew that this church with such amazing potential. Yet, it was flushing that potential into the ocean because they refused to consider adjusting things for the sake of mission. They seemed much more content to build a comfortable sub-culture that was hostile to anyone but their own small group.
Now, here's some grace . . .
It simply may have been a bad week for visiting that church. We all have those.
But there are many bad weeks in many churches that do this week after week after week. Most are simply oblivious to the problem.
In the next few posts I'll share some basic principles you can use to prepare your church to be a more inviting place for visitors.