In the past 3 weeks I have heard two pastors from different cities say, “the problem is we get them in the front door and they are leaving out the back”.
As I am typing this I must admit I am getting a little hot under the collar and I am not talking about a hot flash. Yes I do get those but I am mad about this! I have been in this spot before. I have gone into a church knowing no one on more than 1 occasion. I have had my kids with me and I have been alone. I can tell you our body is not doing the best job at making new people feel welcome.
With all the sports our kids have played we have found ourselves on the road and we have had to find a church to worship at. I took the kids to a church in Montana once. I went in with a big smile, tried to make eye contact with people, I was the one who said, "hi" because the people of the church were not about to extend to us a “welcome to our church”. We stayed after for coffee and snacks and I waited for someone to ask us our names, how are you, nice weather, anything!! My two kids were young at the time and as we got in the car they said, church was good and they liked the activities folders for the kids. Then they BOTH said, “No one said hi or talked to us” Out of the mouths of babes I say!!!
That church had no way of knowing that we were just passing through. What if we had been seeking for a church? What if we so broken and just needed one person to say hello and be the hands and feet of Christ? If I had been looking for a church, it would not have been in that church I would have found myself welcome in and I would have moved on. "In the front door and right out the back door"
Years later we found God calling us in a new direction. We felt a bit like we were wandering in the desert trying to find our church. What I found during that time is that what we experienced in Montana is the same all over the place. We went to many churches where the message was good but the body was so wrapped up in their time with friends, their “friend zones” that they forgot to welcome the new people. We were grounded in the Lord and not afraid to ask questions so we would seek out the pastor and youth leader on our own to find out information about the church. Someone is seeking to find out about who Jesus is, won’t care about that stuff right than. What they will care about is; were they made to feel welcome or not? What is going to get them coming back is a welcoming church body. After almost a year of looking for a church I can say; with what I felt as we entered new churches, some have really missed the mark on this big time.
You may be reading this and think the lady I talked about at the beginning who went to church for a year and a half, should have tried to make friends on her own. If I had a buzzer I would make the buzzer sound right now. It is not the job of new person to walk into a church and make them selves known. Let me give you an example: We were snow skiing and a very close friend of my son was skiing there also. He came by with a friend of his we had never met. This young man had never met us before. He was stepping in to our condo, our territory for lack of a better word. It was up to my husband and myself along with the others staying at our place to make him feel welcome. Like he belonged. We started the conversation, I served him a plate of food and we all told him we were glad to have him. He had to know we wanted him in our place. We need to remember that our churches are like home away from home for us. We need to treat new comers to our churches the way we would treat them in our homes.
I challenge you to go to a different church sometime because I think it is good to have the perspective of what it is like to walk into a place where you don't know anyone. Also, I know we get excited to see our friends at church and we want to talk to them but; they are our friends we can see and talk to them anytime. We need to step out of the “friend zone” and get to know others.
A person may be stepping into our church ready to give up on life. Just one extended hand from the body of Christ, a cup of coffee and the simple words “I am happy you are here, come sit with me” could save a life. I hope you take to heart these words! Preachy, yes they are but needed. For a year and a half this lady who was very shy has sat in her church and only met two people. Something is wrong with that. Yes maybe she is so shy that it is hard for her to meet friends but that is where we need to be going out of our way to plug shy people like her in. What a difference it would make if someone said could I take you for a cup of coffee.
We have got to go out of our way on Sunday to meet the new people and really try to connect with them. If I had been seeking to find Jesus that Sunday in Montana, I would have come in the front door but I would have run right out the back because I felt so unwanted. Christ gave all for us, the least we could do is get up out of our favorites seats in church and make someone feel welcome. Isn't it time to get out of the "friend zone" we have become so comfortable in.