10 Signs That Say "You are Not Welcome in This Church"
- Joe McKeever
- 2016 26 Apr
A Church's Priority
As a retired pastor who preaches in a different church almost every Sunday, a fun thing I get to do is study the church bulletins (or handouts or worship guides) which everyone receives on entering the building. You can learn a great deal about a church's priorities and personality in five minutes of perusing that sheet. No church willingly turns its nose up at newcomers, at least none that I know of. But that is the effect of our misbehavior.
Here are ten ways churches signal newcomers they are not wanted.
1. The Front Door is Locked
Locked doors cause people to stay away because the church has told them they're not welcome.
One church I visited had plate glass doors where the interior of the lobby was clearly visible from the front steps. A table had been shoved against the doors to prevent anyone from entering that way. I did not ask why; I knew. The parking lot was in the rear. Regulars parked back there and entered through those doors.
That church, in a constant struggle for survival, is its own worst enemy. They might as well erect a sign in front of the church that reads, "First-timers unwelcome."
2. The Functioning Entrance is Opened Late
Even if we understand why a rarely used front door is kept locked, it makes no sense that the primary door should be closed. And yet, I have walked up to an entrance clearly marked and found it locked. The pastor explained, "We unlock it 15 minutes prior to the service." First-timers like to get there early to see the lay of the land. That door ought to be unlocked a minimum of 45 minutes prior to the announced worship time."
3. The Church Bulletin Gives Inadequate Information
The announcement reads: "The youth will have their next meeting this week at Stacy's house. See Shawn for directions. Team B is in charge of refreshments."
Good luck to the young person visiting that day and hoping to break into the clique. He has no idea who Shawn is, how to get to Stacy's house or what's going on if he dares to attend. So, the youth does not return. Next Sunday, he tries that church across town that is drawing in great crowds of teens.
4. The Pulpit is Unfriendly to First-Timers.
The pastor says, "I'm going to call on Bob to lead the prayer." Or, "Now, Susan will tell us about the women's luncheon today." "Tom will be at the front door with information on the project."
By not using the full names of the individuals, the pastor ends up speaking only to the insiders. Outsiders entered without knowing anyone and leave the same way.
5. The Congregation Sends Its Own Signals
Did you get the impression that you were sitting in someone else's pew today? Did anyone make an effort to learn your name and see if you have a question? Or, was the only handshake you received given during the in-service time as announced in the bulletin? (Those, incidentally, do not count when assessing the friendliness of a congregation. Only spontaneous acts of kindness count.)
Churches have their own signs, although not as clear or blatant as that. Usually, they are read in the faces, smiles (or lack of one), and tone of voice of members.
6. The Insider Language Keeps Outsiders Away
Now, I'm not one who believes we should strip all our worship service prayers and hymns and sermons of all references to sanctification, the blood, justification, atonement, and such. This is who we are.
However, when we use the terms without a word of explanation--particularly, if we do it again and again--first-timers unaccustomed to the terms feel the same way you would if you dropped in on a foreign language class mid-semester: lost.
7. No Attempt is Made to Get Information from Visitors
Now, most church bulletins which I see from week to week have the perforated tear-off which asks for all kinds of information and even gives people ways to sign up for courses or dinners. But I've been amazed at how many do not ask for that information.
A church which is successful in reaching people for Christ will use redundancy. That is, they will have multiple methods for engaging newcomers, everything from greeters in the parking lot to friendly ushers to attractive bulletins and after-service receptions.
8. No One Follows Up on First-Timers
One of the ministers of my church helped me with this. He said, "Asking people to fill out a guest card implies that there will be some kind of contact with them afterwards." He pointed out that our pastor informs them "no salesman will call," but even so, "Someone phones many visitors, and letters go out to most."
The first-timer who visits a church and does everything right has a right to expect some kind of follow-up from a leader of that congregation.
9. Intangibles Often Send the Signals Loud and Clear
In one church I served, a couple roamed the auditorium before and after services in search of anyone they did not know. Lee and Dottie Andrews greeted the newcomers, engaged them in conversation, and quickly determined if an invitation to lunch would be in order. Almost every Sunday, they hosted a visiting family at the local cafeteria. At least half of these joined our church.
Some churches install a newcomers desk in the foyer, where visitors can meet knowledgeable leaders, pick up material, and get questions answered. Those can be great, but there is one caveat: you must have the right people on that desk. Individuals gifted with great smiles and servant spirits and infinite patience are ideal.
10. What Happens Following the Service Can Make the Difference
You the newcomer have enjoyed the service, you were blessed by the sermon, and you would like to greet the pastor and begin an acquaintance with this church. Most churches are set up for you to do just this. But not all.
I've been in churches where within 5 minutes after the benediction, the place was deserted. People were so eager to leave, they hardly spoke to one another, much less guests. The signal they send the visitor is clear: "We don't care for our church and you wouldn't either."
The Church is Called to Reach Out
One wonders if pastors and other leaders realize just how scary it can be for a person new in the city to venture into an unfamiliar church. It is an act of courage of the first dimension.
The Lord told Israel to reach out to newcomers and welcome them. After all, they themselves knew what it was to live in a strange country where the language and customs were foreign and they were missing home. God wanted Israel to remember always how that felt so they would welcome the stranger within their gates.
How much more should a church of the Lord Jesus Christ.