Since relocating three years ago, I have been visiting churches. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve visited. They include churches of all sizes and denominations. I remember thinking my church (where I was involved prior to my divorce) was friendly and what I have learned is that friendly and inviting are not the same thing. Every church I’ve been to has some moment either before or during the service to greet the people around you. At a few churches no one has approached me. At most churches people shake my hand and say hello but that is the end of the moment. At only two churches have members taken the time to introduce themselves, ask a question or two about me and then invite me to join them in some additional activity. I even had a couple offer to walk with me to their Sunday School Class. I had a woman offer to pay for me to attend their women’s dinner when she find out I was unemployed. Guess which churches I liked the best?
Shaking someone’s hand and saying hello doesn’t cut it. It is difficult enough to walk into a church not knowing a soul, especially when you are alone. I remember being comfortable at my church and being involved. In the beginning I was great at seeking out and inviting new people to join me in Sunday School or a Bible Study or a women’s group or a family event. But over time, like most people, I became complacent. I am learning first hand how not reaching out beyond a handshake makes a visitor feel excluded and unwanted.
When you are busy chitchatting with your friends about an upcoming event, I am left standing there twiddling my thumbs praying the pastor hurries up and tells us to sit down. A visitor is a fish out of water. A handshake and hello does not invite them in for a swim. Now some of you may be saying I need to make an effort and just join a group. While that thought is nice in theory, in practice there are very few people that will actually on their own step out of their comfort zone and join a group. For most people just being brave enough to visit a church is placing them way outside their comfort zone. It is up to the church members to reach out and invite the visitors to experience their church on a deeper and more personal level. Don’t say to yourself, well we have a committee to do that. Or we have people that do a follow up call. It is the responsibility of every believer to try and make that connection.
So next time you have those moments to greet people or share the peace, take the time to get their name and find something out about them. If you don’t have time, make sure you get them before they walk out of the sanctuary. Invite them to something. Get their email, give them your email. Get out of your comfort zone and make your church not just a friendly place but an inviting place.