Seriously, you really do have to say hello.
Cold. Unfriendly. Maybe even unwelcome.
That’s what newcomers to your church may likely feel when they enter your service for the first time. I know this because it’s just happened to me—twice.
Poor from my final semester in the doctoral program at Lancaster Theological Seminary, plus the fact that my foster-to-adopt kiddos are all coming to live under one roof at this time, my two-week vacation was a ‘staycation’ this year. [This is no lament. Joy abounds!]
During the two Sundays of my staycation, I took my teenage Sunday school students to two very different church experiences. Now truth time. When it comes to Jesus, worship, and gospel goodness, I get excited. I am NOT shy.
But something happened at each church. I was not welcome. With a few exceptions which I’ll share in a moment, I was not acknowledged.
Fact. I am not an ego king expecting people to stop mid-sentence and coddle me with sweet goodness. During both worship experiences however, I was wanting the unexpected and unfamiliar. Like newcomers coming to your church for the first, second, third, fourth and fourteenth time, I wanted to feel connected, be connected. I anticipated being a part of a bigger, global God of surprises and certainty, where, in a house of the Holy Spirit, the new, the old, the exciting and the familiar mixed seamlessly, wonderfully and beautifully.
Now this did happen, but it didn’t happen with those strangers seated around me who, in both churches, honestly never looked me in the eye.
And that hurts. It hurts because God is community, and community is God.
I get those I’ve met who have said that church people are judgmental. Having experienced what I did, I see where that comment comes from.
Jesus lovers, you HAVE to say hello to new people—a lot. And you have to do more than the superficial chit chat stuff.
To be fair, we were acknowledged by a few at both churches. Some of my students felt more welcomed than others, so we were divided on what it means to be welcome (which in itself is interesting). At one church, a worship leader glad-handed my students and me, and while it lasted for only a moment, it was good.
Some of us are true introverts. I get it. I am actually an extroverted introvert, so just chattin’ someone up is not a natural go-to for me. I have to force it. But people, force it. This is really important.
Those sitting behind us at both churches never acknowledged we were there. Ouch. Major ouch. Don’t do that. At least nod. A smile wouldn’t hurt either.
One church passed the peace. For my non-churched readers, this is a time during worship where, for a short time, you intentionally greet those around you in the church. This was good at the church where we were, but for congregations who practice this, let’s not be like a light switch—friendly on and then friendly off.
No one wants to be smothered. Best friending a stranger is weird for everyone, and welcoming people means different things to different people. But this Lent, when a newbie comes, be respectful. Be gentle. Be warm. Be kind. Be gracious. Let love from God flow.
This blog first appeared in The Susquehanna Independent on March 4, 2020.