It's one of the biggest lies in churches.
Of the thousands of on-site and virtual consultations I have done, it is the most common sentence I hear from church members:
"We are the friendliest church in town!"
With rare exceptions, it's just not true.
We surveyed guests who visited the church and found a dramatically different perception. Their most common comment is:
"The people at that church aren't very friendly."
So how do so many church members have such a disconnect with reality? I see six common reasons:
1. The holy huddle syndrome. Church members naturally gravitate to people they know when they go to a worship service. They already have relational connections. The members thus perceive they are friendly because they are friendly to each other.
Unfortunately, guests are not included.
2. The stand-and-greet satisfier. Many churches have a time set aside in the worship service for people to greet one another. I have written before about the dreaded stand-and-greet time. For most church members, those three to four minutes of shaking hands and speaking to someone constitute friendliness. To guests, it often seems contrived and inconsistent with what they see beyond the "official" welcome time.
3. The I-don't-live-here reality. Church members know the facilities of their churches. They know where to park. They don't need good signage. They know where to sit. Guests are, well, guests. They often come to the worship services frustrated because of poor signage. One guest tried to open three doors before she found the right one. And she was a single mom with three kids in tow. For many guests, they form a quick opinion that the church is for insiders only.
4. The insider language mystery. Often those who preach or make announcements speak in words and acronyms that only the members understand. It seems to be an insider code without any consideration to those who are making their first visit. The guest feels like he or she is on the outside looking in.
5. The unhappy kid/unhappy parent problem. Regardless of the adults' experience at church, if their children do not have a good experience, it will be clearly reflected in the parents' attitudes. Some churches go out of their way to make the children safe, secure, and happy. That's good. Some don't. That's bad.
7. The 6 + 1 dilemma. Most Christians are not prayerfully and intentionally trying to reach non-Christians through word and deed. How can we expect those members who don't have a friendly attitude toward the outsider six days a week to change it dramatically for one day a week? The truly friendly people I see in churches are showing love, concern, compassion and friendliness toward others the other six days of the week.
Guest friendliness is important. Indeed, it can make an eternal difference in the guests' lives. But guest friendliness is not natural in most churches. And, unfortunately, most church members do not even realize they aren't friendly to guests.
It's a problem. The first step is realizing how unfriendly your church may really seem to guests.
Let me hear from you.
Thom Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit thomrainer.com.
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