Today I visited a new-to-me church. Things lined up in life that our children were at grandma and grandpa's for the weekend, and my wife wasn't feeling too chipper. So I decided to visit and worship with another body of believers. I like visiting other congregations because I get a chance to see how others worship, see their ideas in ministry, and listen to a fresh voice teaching God's word.
As my friends already know, my family and I have been part of Acts 4:9 Church, a house-church, for 6 years now that meets on Saturday evenings. Because we don't have much to offer children, we started attending Cornerstone Community Church in Brooklyn (MI) about 5 years ago as well so that our children could have some other kid-friendly involvement. (By the way, CCC is one of THE friendliest congregations with whom I have ever worshiped. Period!) We are pleased with CCC, but sometimes it's nice to worship with other brothers and sisters in Christ.
So, today was a different place. Now, I'm about as Reformed and Calvinist as they come, so I wasn't intimidated by visiting a Baptist church --and the rumor is that this particular one is about as close to Baptist as Baptists come.
Unfortunately, the greeting was about as Baptist as they come, too. When I arrived, I entered through one of two double-doors at the same time as a regular attendee. (I would come to know this because I would be introduced to her at the end of the worship gathering.) As I entered, I SAW two greeters -- a man and woman who looked to be a married couple. I can only assume this because they were approximately the same age, and, after all, it was a male-female team.
Anyway, as I entered at the same time as this other gal, I was not greeted; not acknowledged. Not even the slightest head nod was tipped my way. I honestly didn't enter with any intention of purposely dodging anyone. I think I looked rather approachable with an easy smile on my face and a leisurely walk. Unfortunately, the couple felt more compelled to shower their friend -- rather than a complete stranger -- with hello's and hugs. I actually even had to search for a bulletin. Thankfully, I found one sitting on a nearby table.
So I meandered around the lobby for about 5 minutes. I literally looked around. I acted curious. I perused their book kiosk. But still no hello's. It was plainly obvious that I was a visitor. I felt out of place, and I surely looked out of place. Now, I have to say, I wasn't dressed in a suit, but was casually and cleanly appropriately dressed. I didn't stink, I wasn't ugly, and I wasn't ritzy looking either. I was just plane ol' Joe. Err, Mike.
So I seated myself next to...my grandmother. She attends this church, but didn't know I would be visiting that day. Hey, neither did I. But I finally had someone to talk to at least.
I met one elderly couple as they tried to pry their way into the half-inch that separated my grandmother's right shoulder from my left shoulder. Grandma shooed them away, telling them she'd sit by her grandson today since she doesn't get this opportunity every week like she does with them. Hey, what can I say, Grandma loves me :-) She introduced me to this elderly couple, another family who regularly sits behind her, and one other elderly lady who leads a bible study she attends. Other than that, not one person approached me on their own accord. Not one.
The beginning of the worship "service" began without much flare or enthusiasm, too. A middle-aged man stood up front and issued a very quiet, solemn -- albeit sincere -- welcome...in the most monotone voice a Baptist could muster. Seriously, if I wasn't feeling welcome before this, I certainly didn't feel it now. But I gave him some grace, maybe he was nervous.
The purpose of this post is not to gripe about any certain place of worship. Believe me, this great church has a lot to be praised. The teaching/preaching of God's word by a missionary (Kyle Farran) to Africa was far and away one of the top 5 missionary sermons I've ever heard. Ever! (2nd to David Platt's message at T4G 2012.) This one might even rank among the best overall messages I've heard, period. I was not only helped, but challenged. Music and worship was above average. So, there was indeed much to be praised at CCBC.
Instead, my purpose is to ask you how friendly you are to people. Not just "your church", but YOU. I don't care how friendly you are to your friends, but how friendly you are to outsiders. Do you reach out to the person who doesn't look like s/he belongs? or even to the person who might not look or smell as good as you think they ought? or to the new guy/girl/family? Are you warm and welcoming? Is yours a safe atmosphere where people enter and calmly sigh, "Ahhhhh."
Some might say, "C'mon Mike, give 'em a chance. It was your first time there. They might very well be friendly, and maybe you just attended on an 'off day'." True, but first impressions are lasting impressions. First impressions often make or break what people think about us, our corporate meetings, and even our God.
If we're not reaching out to the sickly, lame, begging, poor individual, but instead to the friend who wears a nice suit and tie as he carries his leather-bound Thompson-chain bible and a big, fake smile, then dare I say we are showing an ungodly favoritism that repulses the One who reached out to us lost, lonely, despicable sinners in the first place? Dare I say our failure to reach out to outsiders is really an indicator of our foolish pride? It may be uncomfortable at times, but it must be done!
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
So, seriously, how do you treat outsiders? Do you have any techniques you utilize that would be helpful to others? If you're not reaching out, might you be interested in visiting another congregation some day and experience a positive or negative welcome? In either case, you just might be inspired.