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.

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

I have just completed a series of lessons based on becoming a welcoming church. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year. Lessons correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines as well as the International Standard Series.