Whilst on a church visit recently, I came across the article below in the magazine. Our Welcome is something we shall be looking at over the next few months, so I thought it might be good reading for us.
“ …….how good are we, as churches, in being a genuine family—a family where the lonely, the struggling, the tempted, can find a home and friendship and compassion and support. As I churned these thoughts in my mind I was taken back to a conversation with someone who works in the diocese and visits many different churches on Sundays. His wife usually goes with him, and usually incognito. “I have to say,” he remarked, “that the welcome she has received has mostly been appalling.” It made me wonder, if a middle-aged woman entered one of our services alone and unknown, how good would be the welcome we offer? Parents and children, yes. We usually make a fuss of them. Someone on his/her own? And not only in church. How good are we at inviting people into our homes, or offering to meet and befriend?
My answer would be, I think, ‘not bad.’ But also, ‘beware complacency.’ I want to suggest that we can grow in being a welcoming church in two ways.
One, on Sundays. Clergy and others leading services and preaching work hard to be welcoming, embracing of all, understandable, approachable. But it takes a whole congregation to be a welcoming church. When someone sits near you in church, do you automatically introduce yourself and say ‘hello’? Do you try to talk to someone you don’t know particularly well over a cup of coffee afterwards? If a middle-aged person walked in to our church alone, would you show him/her to a seat? When was the last time you learned some new names of people in the congregation? Sometimes the comment, “We’re a really friendly church,” earns the rather sad reply, “Yes, friendly to your friends! What about others, like me?” I don’t think I’ve seen that here, but surely it is a danger to watch.
Two, outside Sunday services. Some people love nothing more than to fill their diaries and their lives with people. Others, more introvert like me, love time alone! We must work to involve and include others in our lives, and not just our immediate circle of friends. In one of his excellent books on church, Tim Chester points out that we all fill our spare time with eating, or walking the dog, or watching a film, or cooking a barbecue, or a host of other things. Could we not sometimes include others in some of these? Again, that does happen, praise God! But let’s not stick only to our own circles but try to grow our friendships and reach out to others. Just as Jesus did, in fact.
There’s a lovely greeting in Romans 16:13 where Paul writes, ‘Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.’ A mother to me—what a telling phrase. It reminded me of the testimony I heard many years ago of a young man who was struggling with sexual temptation. A number of things had helped, he said, but more than anything else what had helped was strong friendships with members of his own sex, with members of the opposite sex, and with families in his church.
I know that many within our church have found our church to be a real family to them and a real support in hard times, whether short-term or ongoing. That is brilliant and how it warms my heart when I hear it. It is as it should be. So let’s hold on to that and grow it. That, almost more than anything else, will be a powerful demonstration of the gospel. We know the gospel is true. We believe it and love it. When we truly love one another as an outward-looking family others will see that not only is the gospel true, but it works.