People are Lonely. Many of them are #Unwelcome at church
Many people enter religious buildings on Saturday or Sunday morning looking for connection to God and to other people. Scores of them feel unwelcome at church. I put this into the “Isolation and Friendships” category because let’s face it: People in the modern Western world are lonely. How many #Facebook users exist now? Anyone? Can you guess? According to Bing.com, as of December 2015, there are over 1.59 BILLION active monthly users, with 1.04 BILLION of them being active DAILY. Wow! People are LOOKING for connection!
I’m already feeling unwelcome at church when going to church for the first time!
Walking into a church for the first time can be scary. I remember the first time I did when I was 17 years old. My family didn’t ever go to church, so this was completely out of my normal routine or level of comfort. A friend of mine agreed to meet me in the parking lot and we could walk in together so I wouldn’t feel awkward. She didn’t show up. I was already uncomfortable and feeling like I didn’t fit in when I walked through the front doors.
New experience in discomfort
Up until that point in my life, I had never been to a place where the wooden signage was really old and dirty. I had never been to a place where the elderly were passing out folded paper booklets (“we call them ‘Bulletins!'”) with a scowl on their face as I walked up to them. This man in his sky blue colored three-piece suit clearly wasn’t keen on teenagers. He high-fived another older man as I walked past him and turned around to find my friend. Walking up to the back row of chairs, I stopped to look around the sea of chairs for my friend. An elderly lady bumped into me from behind. She told me to watch where I was going. Finally, as I chose to sit alone, my friend (who was running late) showed up and sat next to me. Whew!
After the first song, which was pretty on the piano, the pastor made all the guests stand and introduce themselves. Awesome. As a Sanguine 17 year old, I wasn’t too intimidated by that, as this was my introduction to the whole church! Conspicuously noticeable was my squeamish friend who wasn’t interested in standing up in front of all the people with me. Uh, well, clear my throat… “I’m Neil. I go to Ramona High School…” THAT was uncomfortable. After I sat down, I felt like I had suddenly either been totally unwelcome or a potential insider due to that little initiation ritual. God’s grace is the only explanation as to why I stayed there that day, even though I wanted to crawl in a hole.
Do People Feel Unwelcome at Church Where YOU Are?
Are you making your first-time guests feel welcome? Or are you unintentionally driving them away? Think about how we do that: Bad signage, reserved seating, cheesy clipart bulletins, clunky and uncomfortable communication from the pulpit, PowerPoint slide shows from the early 90’s? How about your snacks? None at all?
In UNWELCOME, Jonathan Malm examines 50 ways churches make first-time visitors feel unwelcome. The transgressions range from insider lingo to awkward transitions, a cold congregation to the over-eager greeter.
Have you ever been hugged by a total stranger, telling you they were glad you came? AWKWARD!
In addition, think about that REALLY uncomfortable portion during the worship service where everyone is told to stand up and greet someone around you. Can you say, “Awkward?”
With all 50 church faux pas, Jonathan suggests ways to not only fix the problem, but also infuse excellence into the situation so churches can put their best foot forward with first-time guests.
A few simple changes can help your church roll out the welcome mat for your guests.
Get this book, not because you want to laugh at the many faux pas we do at church, but because you want to improve on your hospitality.
Pick up UNWELCOME: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Visitors by Jonathan Malm.