Certain words which can be located on church websites, brochures, and documents elicit a cautious response from me. These words include: welcoming, friendly, and accepting. I am convinced that churches who use these words truly do think they appropriately describe their congregations. However, I have come to experience that these words usually have some sort of string attached. Let me be fair in saying that this is not always the case but tends to be true in my experience. I translate these words to include the string…
“Welcoming to everyone who is just like we are.”
“Friendly if you dress like us, act like us, and understand God like us.”
“Accepting if you are willing to be transformed into who we are as believers.”
Even those congregations where they strive to be what they claim can find it difficult to always live these words out and not have if’s attached.
Humans have some natural tendencies which play out in congregations. The first tendency is to gather with people who are like them. Often this occurs without much thought. When you walk into a room filled with people, do you tend to look for individuals who are around your age, seem to dress like you, and have other traits which are like your own? If you are honest, I think you would answer yes to this question. We seem to be drawn to others who exhibit traits with which we can relate.
The other tendency is that we get into routines. If we are in a place where we gather often, we tend to sit in the same place, talk to the same people, and behave the same way. We are comfortable in these aspects, so we return to them over and over. Like the first tendency, this all usually happens without much, if any, thought. This causes a reaction from us if anything upsets the routine.
If your congregation is one which desires to be welcoming, friendly, and accepting without strings. Here are some steps which you can take to move in that direction:
- Always enter your building with the eyes of a visitor.
- Is it easy to find your way around the building?
- Where can someone go to get questions answered? (If you have greeters, make sure that it is obvious who they are and that they can answer questions.)
- How do I know what to do and when to do it?
- Am I bombarded by people or are there one or two who make me feel welcome? (One or two is the best answer. Inviting the visitor(s) to sit with them is a plus as well.)
- Make sure your leaders demonstrate the building of an atmosphere which exhibits the words used.
- Have regular conversations with those who often attend about how to interact with visitors.
- Find ways to encourage the breaking of routines.
- Bring diverse speakers to specific gatherings to help people learn about individuals who may not have similar traits as those who are present.
- Encourage people to change “Who is in my pew?” from a question of frustration into a question that leads to getting to know a visitor better and gratitude.
I intend these to be some possible suggestions you might wish to try. They do not represent a special panacea to solve all the challenges of creating a place where all will find a place. However, it is much better to try to live into what we claim to be than to only say the words but never make an effort to make them reality.