I got an e-mail recently that I wanted to encourage you with:

We have enjoyed getting to know you and some of your congregation also! [My wife] and I were just discussing the fact that each time we have attended Grace Baptist not only were we blessed by the message but some friendly person made a point to talk with us. So many churches these days seem to miss that and expect newcomers to seek out or attend a class to get connected. We look forward to worshiping with you real soon!

Probably the biggest obstacle to a visitor returning to a church is unfriendly people. It doesn’t matter what’s happening up front, who wants to go to a church where you don’t feel wanted? Interestingly, according to church consultant Thom Rainer, most church members think their church is friendly when it actually isn’t.

"“We are the friendliest church in town.” I have heard that statement thousands of times. I promise. In over 500 church consultations and thousands of church member interviews, I heard it. Most church members really do think their church is very friendly. But, more times than not, they are wrong. Guests who visit the churches usually have a much different perspective. ... Volumes of survey data from church guests indicate that very few churches are really friendly. Our surveys over a ten-year period indicate that over eight in ten guests did not consider the church they visited to be friendly."

- Thom Rainer, Six Reasons Your Church Might Not Be As Friendly As You Think It Is

People think their church is friendly because they have developed friendships with others in the church who are, of course, friendly to them. Jesus taught us that that kind of friendliness doesn’t really say much about our faith, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32). Being a friendly church isn’t just about being friendly to your friends; it really comes down to how friendly you are to the people at church that you don’t know. It’s about seeing each Sunday as someone’s day to decide whether they will join our church on the journey to know Jesus better. Whether you reach out in friendship or not will play a big part in how they make that decision.

I have no doubt that there are people who have come and gone from our church without having been made welcome. But where they have found the church friendly, it’s been because of a number of factors:

  1. Greeters and Ushers have gone the extra mile. You might know the greeters as those people who shake your hand on Sunday morning, or the ushers as those people who hand you a bulletin. But their goal is to do so much more. They try to get to know you, to really welcome you and they have their eyes out for people who are new or need help. Have you ever considered serving as a greeter or usher? With two services starting, we desperately need more people to serve in this critical area!
  2. Regular church members have sought to talk to people they don’t know. While our greeters and ushers have an essential role, there’s a limit to what they can do. Often dozens of people will file past all at once and there’s little time to speak to each one. That’s where your role comes in. Looking for new people you can speak with and get to know each week helps everyone grow in their sense of belonging. And often you can help them find their way around and get to know more about the church. Could you come to worship 15 minutes early and just make a point of talking with people you don’t know that well yet? Or how about keeping an eye out for new people around you and making a point of speaking with them in the coffee time or as soon as the service ends?
  3. Someone has handed a newcomer a Welcome Card. I don’t know if you’ve ever personally given a visitor a Welcome Card, but this is one of the key ways that we are able to follow up with the people that visit Grace. While these cards often get mentioned in the announcements, it’s when people are personally handed a card they are most likely to respond.
  4. Everyone has shown courtesy to one another. The church is full now. Very full. And so it would be very natural to compete for the best seats, guard your space and think of yourself. So I’m always impressed when I see people moving their bags off of seats, shifting in to make it easier for people who arrive late, and even giving up their seats to stand or sit in the foyer so that newcomers feel welcome.

I’m grateful for the friendliness of our church. I’m grateful for many who take the lead in this. And I pray that God would raise up many more with that spirit of warmth and interest and concern that we might be a church known for our love.

In awe of Him,

Paul