Monday, March 5, 2012

Aha, a friendly church

Friendliness, I don't suppose, is a quality that is given much depth in the New Testament teaching on churches but then if the followers of Christ are to authentically and evidently love one another, they should certainly be friendly towards those with whom they worship. Lacking the latter manifestly brings into question the former.

Over the years that I pastored, three decades worth, I've heard a good many new members speak of other churches they visited before joining ours. One comment that was heard regularly if not frequently was about this or that other church being unfriendly.

I confessed to not understanding the concept. Still don't.

I'm happy to say that the church we attended yesterday was friendly, not ridiculously friendly a la Chic-fil-A where friendliness is almost annoying but evidently and appropriately friendly.

I liked it. My wife liked it. It set the stage for all the rest of the worship experience.

When we pulled up and picked one of the parking spaces marked 'guest' a lady had parked in the handicap space next to us. I smiled. She smiled and said, "You aren't a member here are you?"

Uh oh. I'm already defined and haven't even walked in the door.

We walked into the average sized SBC church, congregation of under 100, and a young lady with bright eyes and a stellar smile engaged us quite congenially.

I volunteered my name and mentioned that I knew the pastor.

A man behind me said, "I'm sorry," the kind of humorous banter that I like.

We like a back pew but no one sat anywhere near the back ('Honey, check the bulletin and make sure we're in a Baptist church, would you?') so we settled in the middle.

A good many folks approached us, introduced themselves and said they were glad we were there.

I'm thinking they meant it. One or two spoke to us after the service and remembered our names.


I'm guessing that serious Christians who look for a new place of worship would grant a little grace to a congregation that has fallen into a self-satisfied mode where they convey an attitude that they are happy with the folks they already have and aren't very interested in anyone new. I'd also speculate that the measure of grace and patience is limited.

Who has the time and energy to try and crack into a group of people who aren't friendly and which appears not to be open?

Not me.

As a pastor, I'd take time, at least once a year, where I spoke frankly to church members about things we should do or not do to make folks feel welcome in our church. Chic-fil-A trains workers on how to treat customers. It works. There's nothing wrong with a pastor taking time to do sort of the same thing with his members although I get the feeling that some of my ministerial colleagues think this to be beneath their elevated spiritual status.

Not so, bro.

Often, I would ask one of the more personable members of my church to go and talk to someone who was new and who appeared to me to be negelcted. I can recall only twice did someone visiting my church express a desire to be left alone.

The old stand-by church sign message, "The end of your search for a friendly church" achieved cliche status long ago and while a friendly church isn't the holy grail of church qualities, it will determine whether first time visitors return or say good bye permanently.

I'd rather they return.


J L Carver said...

Like you, my wife and I found ourselves in the church looking mode after a few decades in pastoral service. Regrettably we experienced the same challenges. I calculate that we found about 1 in 5 churches to be what I would describe as friendly. For the most part they were relatively newer churches, and in each situation they mirrored the example set by the pastor. A friendly pastor usually meant a friendly church, and that seems to hold regardless of the size of the church. As I was told by a mentor years ago, "You don't have to shake hands with everybody, but everybody needs to see you shaking hands."

Anonymous said...

This same sort of thing happens in a large church setting when searching for a Sunday morning bible fellowship class to become a part of. In the bigger worship service the preacher tells you to find community in these classes but alas some of them are unfriendly and not that interested in new folks. But thankfully some are friendly and welcoming. Just a reflection of human nature I guess.