I hear stories pretty frequently about people who try to go to a church for the first time. It can be an intimidating experience to walk into a space where you do not know the people, the culture of the church, or the layout. When you are a guest, you will have many questions. Where do I park? What door do I enter through? Do we stand? Kneel? Cross ourselves? Raise our hands in worship? Shout, “Amen!”? Heaven forbid if you sit in “someone else’s seat!”
One of the worst things for a guest is to walk into a worship space and not have anyone speak to them. While guests do not want to be smothered (like a young family in an elderly church) or offered leadership positions immediately (we need people like you!), when we speak to new guests we recognize their value and communicate that they are welcome. To this end, many churches go to great lengths to describe themselves as “friendly” churches. Many of the “friendly churches” are, indeed, friendly. Sadly, some churches believe they are friendly when they are not. The problem with settling to be a “friendly church” is that the friendliness stops when the service ends.
We need to stop seeking to be a friendly church and instead be a church where friendships lead to transformation.
Let me be honest; we need to be friendly on Sunday morning. Anything less will turn guests away from the church in a heartbeat. However, our friendliness must evolve into friendship. People are looking for connections. People are looking for relationships. Even in our age of hyper-connectivity, we are more lonely and disconnected than ever. If people do not find meaningful relationships at church, they will find them at the bar, the bowling alley, or the gym. The church must resist the urge to ‘circle the wagons’ of our relationships to withstand the battering of the world. Instead, we are to open our circle of friends as a way to bring people to Jesus.
As Christians, we are called to build relationships with others. We are called to care for the people around us and to walk with them through whatever life brings their way (and ours!). Let us not settle to be a friendly church, but a church where friendships lead to transformation because people encounter Christ in us.