friendly church

Is your church a friendly church?

The stories are true. Only the names have been changed. Here are two doses of reality, and the first one is positive.

Jane is a stylist. She cuts hair. On this particular day, she cut my hair. I often say I get my hairs cut rather than getting a haircut. I don’t know why people use the latter term. After all, who gets just one hair cut?

I am an introvert. If introversion were a spiritual gift, it would be my dominant spiritual gift. I would rather work in a room alone than work in a room with people I hardly know.

But I can’t let my introversion be an excuse to be a silent witness. So I make myself come out of my shell. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s Great Commission obedience.

As Jane was cutting my hairs, I began a conversation about her life and her world. Once I found out where she lived, I was able to shift the conversation to Jesus and church. Indeed, I found out she lived near my church where my son pastors.

So I talked to Jane about her life. I talked a bit about Jesus. And I invited her to church.

She was non-committal. Or so I thought.

Little did I know that the Holy Spirit had already been working in her life. I will spare you the details, but she soon found the website of our church and “bravely” (her word, not mine) decided to visit.

She “fell in love with the church” (her words again). The website gave her all the information she needed. She found the guest parking spot with ease. The people were genuinely friendly. The preacher preached the Bible with conviction and love.

I will cut to the chase: Jane decided to follow Christ. She was baptized.

And now she is smiling, enthused, and an active member of the welcome team ministry of our church.

Great story, huh? Well, let me share another story, one that is not so great.

His name is Ryan. I met Ryan in a consultation for a church where we focused on the guest experience. We had a one-hour in-person interview with him. And he let us have it!

Ryan had almost no church background. But I could tell he was really searching. So he did something bold, if not audacious, from his perspective. He asked his wife, Bethany, if she and their two young daughters would go to church with him.

Bethany had a nominal church background, but she was not really interested in going back to a church. She found the world outside the church more pleasant than church life. She nevertheless agreed to go with Ryan “just one time.”

And there won’t be a second time at the church they visited.

To begin, the church website was terrible. It had not been updated with the new time of the worship service. So the family of four was late, even though they thought they would arrive on time.

Because they arrived late, church members occupied all of the closer parking spots. Supposedly, there were guest parking spots, but Ryan could not find any directional signs to them.

When they arrived late, a couple of front door greeters spoke to them for at least two seconds. The two greeters then resumed their private conversation, oblivious to the world and people around them.

And when they went to the children’s area to check in their two young daughters, disaster struck. The place was dirty. Security was weak. And the person that met them complained because they were late!

Bethany gave Ryan “the look.” It was not a happy moment.

I’m surprised they even went into the worship service at this point. They both realized they made a bad decision.

I won’t give you all the details of their experience. We will save these types of stories for later chapters. But, to state it plainly: it was not good.

By the way, when we interviewed members of this church, they consistently proclaimed a similar message: Our church is very friendly! And their church is friendly—as long as you know people. As long as you are on the inside. As long as you are not a guest.

By the way, Bethany and Ryan had a big fight on the way home from church. They were not happy campers. Ryan told us he would never return to that church. In fact, he told us he would never go to church again.

Sadly, I believe him.

The Myth of the Welcoming Church

Therein lies the problem with most churches. Churches perceive they are a friendly church because the members are friendly to one another. But they don’t think about walking in the shoes of first-time guests. They don’t look at their facilities, their parking, their website, or their friendliness from a guest perspective.

Thom S. Rainer, Becoming a Welcoming Church (Nashville: B&H Books, 2018).