Most of us think we are. I have never had anyone say “You should come to my church. We are very unfriendly but you would love it!” Makes us smile to even think about it doesn't it? I even was at a church once that had on the sign in front and on their bulletin “The Friendly Church!”
I put together a seminar years ago on seeing ourselves as others see us and have offered it over the years in different places I have served. One of the things I work to help churches I serve either as a pastor or consultant is how they are perceived in the community. When I was teaching marketing years ago I used to talk about in the eyes of the customer “perception is reality” even when it is not what we want it to be. That is true with a product, a service, a church or even an individual.
A few days ago I received the following message from a former member of a church I served. “Thought of you yesterday. How you always told our Church to be open and welcoming to people walking in for the first time. Ben and Kim bought a house outside Anywhere. They had been going to a very welcoming and loving Church in Sometown since Sam was born and was baptized there. They decided to try the Methodist Church in Anywhere this Sunday. Kim works weekends so it is Ben usually alone with Sam. Not a good experience, Sam is 18 months old and talked sometimes during service, people turned and stared at him, not smiling or welcoming. After service a few older couples came and welcomed him. No young couples or middle age couples. I'm very sad about it, he said he won't go back, felt very uncomfortable. I pray so hard my children will raise their children to know and love God with all their hearts and then something like this happens. Thank you for opening my eyes years ago to being welcoming to others coming into the Church for the first time. :( “
I wish I could say this is an unusual occurrence but the fact is that this is the most common experience people have when they visit our churches. So much of what we do is focused on those that are already “inside” the church we don’t even notice it would be meaningless to someone “outside” the church. The problem is that we sometimes welcome people into our buildings but not into our churches. The building is always the place where the church, the people, gather and even if we do a great job of inviting people into the building, integrating into the people is far more difficult usually unless we are intentional about it.
Of course this is an unusual occurrence in another way in that someone entered the building without being invited by someone that was already there. Would the experience have been any different? We need to be prepared to build relationships with people as soon as they connect with the church in any way. Today that is more likely to happen outside the building than inside. Remember, the church is a gathering of follower of Jesus wherever you are.
Are you prepared to extend a welcome to your church?