I don't know of any church that would admit to being unwelcoming to those new to the community. In fact, every church I have been a part of has prided themselves on being the "most welcoming church in town" and yet many of them were anything but welcoming. As a church planter this lack of self awareness among churches is frightening. Of course, I want our gathering (and all else for that matter) to be welcoming, but how am I to know what makes for a truly welcoming church? Why do so many churches think they are welcoming when everyone knows they aren't? Thom Rainer helps us think through these questions and more in his book Becoming a Welcoming Church.
I really appreciate the work of Thom Rainer. He has a heart for the local church and the pastor. His work has greatly helped me in the leadership aspect of being a pastor.
I love the short, to the point style of his books and Becoming a Welcoming Church is no exception. I was greatly helped with practical ideas.
Here are my three takeaways from Becoming a Welcoming Church
1. We should make an effort to think like the outsider thinks.
"Church members think they are friendly but really, they mean they are friendly to each other."
This quote is spot on. The reason you think your church is the most welcoming in town is because for you, it is! You see all of your friends and family. You know the person taking care of your kid in the nursery. You know where the coffee is. You are used to the awkward thing your pastor does occasionally when he asks you to tell your neighbor they are good looking. You understand the insider language. You feel comfortable and loved.
But, our guest have no idea about any of these things. To make matters worse, when they walk into this foreign environment they find regulars talking to each other. They don't know the person in the nursery, in fact they don't even know where the nursery is!
We take for granted all of these things, because we are used to them. This is why we need to make an extra effort to think about how our gathering would feel to someone who is new. Imagine how you would feel if you had never been to your church or had never been to church at all.
How uncomfortable would you feel in a Jewish synagogue? I imagine you'd feel nervous before you ever walked in the building. This is how non-believers feel when they come to your church. What are you doing to ensure they feel comfortable?
In the book, Thom gives plenty of examples of how we can ensure we are thinking about outsiders.
These and many more suggestions in the book are helpful for us to think through.
2. The "meet and greet" time is awkward.
Thom sites a revealing study of visitors throughout the book. He summarizes the findings into a list of the top 10 turnoffs cited by guests. The number one turnoff on the list, with a staggering nine out of ten guest agreeing, was the meet and greet time.
I don't know why churches think five minutes of forced conversation is a good idea. If your church is truly a family, they will be welcoming and greeting all the time. It doesn't need to be programmed. When I visit the church I grew up in I feel so uncomfortable during this time and I actually know the people. Imagine how awkward and uncomfortable it is for the person who is new.
Maybe we should replace the meet and greet time by becoming a truly welcoming church.
3. Hospitality is more important than you think.
"Why does our church service need to be welcoming? We are a family and if they are uncomfortable, it is their problem not ours."
I think this attitude unfortunately sums up many churches. If I am honest there are areas that I don't want to give up for the sake of outsiders. I like things a certain way, but we need to remember that we are called to be missionaries for the Glory of God on this side of Heaven. If we are going to be obedient to Jesus we must care what the outsider thinks. Don't believe me? That's fine, here is what the apostle Paul had to say:
If . . . the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? -1 Corinthians 14:23
Now, I am not saying the gathering is primarily for the unbeliever. I think scripture is clear that we gather as God's people for the purpose of building up the body, but we need to understand that our message is good news for all. There are pieces of our gathering that are essential no matter how uncomfortable they may be.
But, we ought not make things more uncomfortable to those who do not yet know God. It is selfish and sinful to hold onto non-essentials for the sake of our own comfort.
So yes, you may have to give up responsive readings, meet and greet times, long periods of singing, music styles, or a hundred other preferences for the sake of outsiders. But, that is what we do. We are here to serve the mission of our King.
We exist to serve not to be served. We need to take our eyes off of ourselves and put them on the mission of Jesus. This goes for every area of our lives, not just the 60 minutes we spend at a gathering once a week.
The audio version is 2 hours and 13 minutes.
The physical book is 128 pages.
The length is perfect! I wish more books were this length. So often, it feels like the author is stretching the point out just to make the book longer. Thom says what needs to be said and not much more.
Buy or Pass
Buy. Whether you are church leader or just a thoughtful church member, this book will challenge you.