Several years back, I had the opportunity to study in New York City. And while I was living there, I began looking for a church home. I tried out several churches before visiting one that was just around the corner from my apartment.
When I walked in the door, it was immediately apparent that this was going to be a different experience for me. That’s because I was one of maybe four Caucasians in the church. And for this white boy from Texas, that was different.
You might ask, “Wasn’t that awkward?” To be honest, it was at first. (I have rarely stepped into a new experience without feeling awkward.) But I was already there, so I said to myself, “Let’s give it a shot.”
I’m so glad that I did because I learned some important lessons. The first was that the kingdom of God is a whole lot bigger than my small frame of reference. The people at this church loved God and it was evident.
The second thing I learned is that friendliness goes a long way. That church called itself “The friendliest church in New York.” Now, I did not visit every single church while I was there, so I can’t verify that that claim was true. However, based on the way I was treated, I can tell you that if this church was not the friendliest church in New York, it would have given the friendliest church a run for its money.
The people there were so welcoming to me that I continued to worship there for the rest of my time in the New York. At a time in my life when I was a new believer, living in a new city, building all new relationship, this church made me feel like I was part of a family.
Friendliness goes a long way.
Each person who visits our church is taking a risk. They risk hearing something with which they might not agree. They risk being challenged to make personal changes. They risk feeling different, like they don’t belong.
What’s exciting is that each unbeliever who walks through the doors of our church takes a step toward a relationship with Christ. They have come onto our turf so to speak.
That presents us with a tremendous opportunity. And if we’re to seize that opportunity, we have to make sure that these guests feel like their visit was worth the risk.
There’s something else to consider as well. If we do not have a heart to reach out here, where we have tons of support, where we have all the resources we need, then will we really reach out when the odds are against us? If our heart is not developed here, will it really reach beyond these doors?
If we’re going to effectively carry out the great commission, we need to make the most of the best opportunities. To do that, I believe that our services ought to be characterized by an evident concern for the lost, manifested in a friendly, welcoming environment.
2 Very Practical Steps
STEP 1: Arrive 10 Minutes Early
I’ve told the folks who attend our first worship service that we need to stop thinking of it as the 8 a.m. service. We need to think of it as the 7:50 worship service.
Why? Because arriving 10 minutes early allows you time to talk to those around you before service even begins. It’s hard to be friendly to others if you don’t have time to be.
STEP 2: Actively Seek to Build Relationships
One of our Adult Bible Fellowship teachers has a class rule: people aren’t allowed to sit down for the first 15 minutes. They have to move around and talk to each other.
I think that’s a great policy. It is too easy to come to church and sit in the chairs and wait for everything to come to you.
Building relationships, however, involves getting out of our comfort zone. For some of us, our comfort zone is restricted to the 20″ x 20″ seat we occupy during the worship service.
If we want our services to be welcoming, we need to get out of our chairs. We’ve got to be willing to walk up to other people that we may not know well and begin a conversation.
Will that take you out of your comfort zone? Probably. It takes me out of mine. But the Apostle Paul had an answer for this.
Regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Is the value of making someone else feel welcome worth a little personal discomfort? I think each of us ought to answer that question with a resounding “Yes.”
Throwing Down the Gauntlet
If we are really serious about showing kindness to the others who attend our church, that should create some problems for our worship team. I am encouraging us to become such an inviting church that our commitment to building relationships would actually make it challenging for our worship team to get our worship services started.
Now, let’s be up front about this. It would take a lot of work to make that happen. Nevertheless, I dare you to drive our worship team crazy with your heart for others.
Let’s amp up the level of friendliness, the level of relationship-building, the level of getting-up-out-of-your-chair-and-talking-to-people in our worship services. Let continue to make our church a place where people want to worship.