“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” Matthew 25:35
One concern all churches share is how we welcome guests. Even in churches that haven’t seen regular visitors, we should be prepared to do this well. As we seek to engage new generations, hopefully they and their families will join us for worship and eventually bring in other new faces. But all the programmatic preparation doesn’t matter if we don’t also prepare our hearts and minds for visitors.
I’ve visited several churches over the summer. The smaller congregations tend to be better at recognizing new faces and offering a warm welcome. Larger ones struggle more so, which might be expected. Either way the struggle is often due to personal distraction and can be overcome.
One Sunday morning, I walked all the way through the building before anyone acknowledged my presence. Eventually several smiled as they walked by. Some said, “Good morning.” One said, “Hi, how are you?” and kept walking without receiving an answer!
I saw a couple of ladies looking at a display and ask them about it. One gave a vague explanation as if it might jog my memory from events of the previous week. Even from my question, they didn’t realize I had never been there before. I offered them a ripe opportunity to introduce themselves and orient me to their congregation and they missed it. A lot of conversations were happening between friends and families around me, but none seemed too concerned with the unfamiliar girl standing alone.
Are we too distracted by our own plans and desires on Sunday morning to recognize and care for others? If you’re going to greet someone, why not allow yourself time to receive their greeting in return? God calls us to surrender our will for His will daily, and if we can’t even take a few extra moments on Sunday Morning to excellently welcome someone else to God’s house, how can we possibly be sharing the love of God through the busyness of the rest of the week? We are doing a fine job of this with those whom we know and love already, but we are not truly open to the stranger among us.
We will not effectively reach new generations unless we are willing to make the first move toward them. New generations are not as socialized as previous generations. They often lack experience in social settings to know how or be confident enough to insert themselves into our church family. We must welcome them with open hearts not distracted by our selfish desires.