I am blessed to serve at a church that is very loving and welcoming. We have had many visitors to our assembly who have raved about the reception they received. The Oldham Lane Church of Christ is not a perfect church by any means, but we do hospitality and warmth well. However, there are always some who have quite the opposite experience. They come through our doors, make their way through the crowd, sit through the worship service, walk out the door to their car and claim that no one spoke to them or even acknowledged them. I don’t flippantly dismiss these claims. I do recognize that some visitors “fall through the cracks.” Sadly, not everyone receives a hug, a handshake, and/or a, “So glad you’re here!” I am confident this is not purposeful. There is no one at Oldham Lane who makes it their mission to drive away guests. Unfortunately, a visitor can get missed. Someone may get passed over. I hate it, but it does happen from time to time.
That being said, I do believe that it’s important for church visitors to show the same grace that they expect. I have encountered guests who wanted to give the minimum, yet expect the maximum. With this in mind, I’d like to share a few suggestions for the church visitor. Please understand, this is not meant to be a rant or an angry post. I simply believe that there’s a two-way street of accountability.
To the visitor:
- Coming to Bible class provides a great opportunity for interaction. For many churches, Bible class offers a smaller setting with people of similar ages. It’s much easier to meet and greet people. The time between Bible class and worship is a period of busy transition, especially for younger families picking up their children from Bible class. Thus, the task of conversing with visitors is made more difficult.
- Make yourself available. Ok, this is a bit of a rant. It’s extremely frustrating when I hear guests say, “I’ve been visiting for quite some time and no one ever speaks to me.” All too often, the person making this statement doesn’t come to Bible class, the arrive to worship late, they sit in the very back, and they leave as soon as worship is over. How can anyone get to know them? Chances are, no one even knew they were there in the first place. They were like a church ninja who snuck in and snuck out undetected.
- Remember, you are NOT a consumer. Far too many people come to church with the wrong outlook and, thus, the wrong expectations. Visitors should be welcomed. Christians should be attentive to guests; however, it is not the church’s primary responsibility to cater to you. You are not a customer. You are a worshiper. The church does not exist to meet your preferences or satisfy your tastes. The church exists to make and grow disciples. Instead of looking at church from a consumer’s perspective, scope out ways in which you can get involved in carrying out the mission.
I hope this post is taken in the spirit in which it was written. I don’t mean to make excuses for a lack of hospitality within the church. There is absolutely no justification for an unwelcoming attitude and atmosphere. However, I don’t believe this is always a one-sided issue. My experience has taught me that the guests who come to Bible class, who attend both services, who come to small groups, who engage the members, and who seek to get involved are the ones who have the best experience and are the most likely to stay.
I would hope that any guest would receive a warm reception at the church they chose to visit. I would also hope that any guest would temper their expectations with the same courtesy they hope to receive.