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Posted | 31 comments

How Friendly is Your Church?

How Friendly is Your Church?

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I recently received a tragic email from a listener about his experience with several churches. Sadly, what he wrote is not an isolated occurrence. In my experience, it’s all too common. Here’s what he said …

I’m not a Christian, I try to avoid Christians. I lost my wife and children a while back – they were killed in a car by a drunk driver. I tried to commit suicide, but the police stopped me and I ended up in a mental health unit for a while. I decided to go to church one Sunday. They asked me where I lived – so I told them. Church after church the same thing – they treated me like a criminal. It was like a kick in the teeth.

I wonder about Christians some days. They read their bibles, go to their bible study groups, go to their conferences, raise their hands in the air thanking Jesus … Are they being taught rubbish, or is it going through one ear and out the other?

It makes you think.
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The Church Where Nobody Said Hello

I was travelling overseas recently and found myself at a loose end for a church service on a Sunday evening. So I asked a friend who lived in that city and he pointed me to a “well-regarded” church not far from my hotel.

When I arrived, the two “greeters” outside the front door were drinking coffee. I received a perfunctory “hello” and “welcome” before walking through the doors, where the second-line greeter offered me the bulletin. “Where are you from?” she asked. I explained I was travelling from overseas, at which point, she made it clear that, as a transient, I was of little interest.

So, I went and sat down in a pew – snazzy building by the way! A traditional old church with new lighting, a contemporary setup and, of course, great audio-visual. The band was practicing and then going into their pre-service prayer huddle. The pastors were running around, busy, doing what pastors do before a service. And church members were steadily accumulating around me as we approached the designated start time.

All good … and yet, not one person said hello to me. Not one person came up and asked me why I was there. Not one person made me feel welcome.

I was in the midst of a church, and yet, I felt completely alone. 

I couldn’t help but wonder … what if I were in desperate need today (as I had been over 2o years ago when I first entered a church building)? What if I were close to taking my own life out of sheer desperation, hurting so deeply that I’d come along to church for help (as I had been the case all those years before)?

Well?!
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Don’t get me wrong …

I’m not saying every church is bad. But as a society, we’re steadily losing (some would argue, have lost) the art of doing community; of relying on one another; of looking out for each other. It’s only natural, the more affluent and independent we become.

And that social trend, sadly, is spreading like cancer in churches around the globe. There are some great church concerts happening out there of a Sunday. Great music, powerful sermons … a slick package over all.

But we’ve forgotten, by and large, how to welcome strangers. How to by kind and open and caring. How to be a family. Because in this 21st century world, we’re pretty much self-sufficient, and even if we aren’t, that smartphone screen beckons.

How many likes have I got on Facebook/Instagram/ … ??
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Some awkward questions

Here are some unsettling questions to help you reflect on how friendly (or not) your church is:

(1) When was the last time you heard a message from the pulpit on how to treat new people who come to your church?

(2) Has your church identified the pastorally gifted members of the congregation, and trained them, empowered them, to organically (without a roster! without prompting) sidle up next to and embrace newcomers?

(3) What happens when a new single woman (or man) wanders in on a Sunday? Or a young family with kids? Or an older person, alone? Does someone of a roughly comparable age/family demographic just naturally sidle up to them and make them feel welcome? Does anybody ask them “What brought you here today?”

(4) How common is it for someone new to your church to be invited out for lunch (or coffee, or anything for that matter) after that first service? (My wife and I attended one church where we weren’t invited out for 9 months!)

Well?
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Think about it

We sing the songs, we listen to the sermons. Praise the Lord, hallelujah! We have a cup of coffee and a chat with the same old people after the service (none of which, in and of themselves, are bad things).

But what about that new person who just wandered in? You’ve never seen them before. Will you pull up next to them and ask them how they’re going and why they’re here? Well, will you?

And when they share their tragic, difficult, messy, inconvenient story with you, will you be the one to wrap the arms of Jesus around them? Well, will you, or not?
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A final word …

So these three things continue: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

 

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below …

31 Comments

  1. I have been attending the Salvation Army since 2011, and thought they were a caring community, but no. I have had no support from anyone after quite a traumatic time -in 2013 separation, divorce, selling my house, house sitting with belongings in storage, the owners came back after 7 weeks instead of 3 months so I had to find accommodation to rent, I travelled to the UK for 1 month, my oldest son was married in Canberra so I drove down with his belongings he’d left behind in Queensland, my mammogram result required a core needle biopsy (all clear), March 2017 my ex-husband’s brother passed away, I went on a cruise, thought I’d found love to fill the hole in my heart (no, wrong) Their idea of pastoral care was to pray for me – not actual contact in person or phone calls.
    My emotions were in complete turmoil and I felt alone, angry, upset, depressed, suffered anxiety, as though no one cared about whether I was here or not.
    I have attended sessions with a counsellor since November 2016 and still current.
    Last December I attended a course on coping with Christmas (dealing with anxiety and depression) The doctor facilitating the course attended Wesleyan Methodist Church.
    In January I saw him and he devised a care plan for me, including new anti-depressants, which I am following.
    In February this year, feeling very betrayed and left alone by Salvation Army, I went to the Wesleyan Methodist Church, where I was made to feel most welcome and included. I have been to several morning teas with different people. I feel like I’ve come “home” I feel so comfortable.
    God has led me to this church and its people for a reason. The course, the doctor, the church cannot be called co-incidence. God has plans for me. My faith has deepened and is maturing as I go through the broken, shattering experience. I have not enjoyed the journey but I know God has carried me and helped me through to get me where I am today. The poem footprints comes to mind. God has allowed me the privilege of this experience so I can help others going through similar situations (walk a mile in my shoes)
    Some days all I could do was make a cup of tea and listen to Gaither Vocal Band cd’s.
    So I thank God for all has done for me thus far and what he wants for me in the future.
    I enjoy listening to your sessions on 91.5 Cooloola Christian Radio, so thank-you for your insights each day.
    May God continue to bless you and your ministry.
    Pamela

    • Pamela, despite people, despite the weaknesses and flaws in His church, God has a way of caring for us and providing for us. Your new church won’t be perfect. But as you get in and become part of the community, using your gifts to serve them as much as they serve you, may He bless you mightily, in Jesus’ name.

  2. About 40 years ago, my mum and dad had gotten into another of their arguments. My mother was very upset and in need of leadership and guidance. I was with her, when -completely out of character for her- walked into a large church on a main road in the suburbs. This was not our denomination’s church but at the time I thought a church is a church is a church – God will be there. The church was open but almost completely empty. Mum sat on a pew. I was shocked and disgusted when a woman approached and told us to go (straight out, no niceties) because we were not part of their Orthodox congregation. I felt so rejected and belittled by this action, both for me and for my mum but to this day, I think it was that woman’s ignorance, not the Orthodox church’ way of working.

  3. I feel so sad when I read these comments about the church and I have heard many myself. My husband and I came from a friendly church in South Africa and so naturally joined the one where our daughter and family go. Our first visit we arrived early and the pastor rushed down the isle to welcome us and find out who we were. It was wonderful but even better at tea/coffee after the service so many people came to welcome us. I always do the same when new people come to that service or if I am on the welcome door. We are all encouraged during notices to mingle and even discuss the surmon. The Joy of the Lord is so evident in all the services. I pray that all churches will seek to be friendly and reach out in love.

    • God sees and blessed those who bless him.
      Even those who don’t.
      Well done xxx

  4. Some of these stories about loneliness are so sad. As a Christian I have always felt too busy to extend the hand of friendship outside church but after reading this article I was fortunate to be able to welcome a new visitor to our church. Hoping that I see her in church again where I shall invite her out for a coffee. Thank you.

  5. Been there done that. The same things have happened to me and all of those questions you proposed well none of it happened to me either. I would go to church be greeted at the door, listen to the sermon and then go home. Very uneventful. So, one day I decided I wasn’t going back there and after giving so much and wearing different hats of ministry I decided to pull the plug because became abused and overused and burnt out. And, no-one cared enough to even chase me up or enquire if I was alive or dead when I left. Absolutely pathetic and the pastors wonder why their churches are dwindling. And anyway, it’s not their church, we are the church, not a building. We belong to Jesus, we are his church, his bride. And it must hurt Jesus all over again when he sees ‘so called Christians’ relate to new people. Where’s the true love of Christ?

  6. I moved to a new town here in Surrey England in 2010 and after settling in, decided to try the church. I prayed that god would lead me to a church that has good music! The music was wonderful and as I’m a musician I decided it would be lovely to join the choir. However, after joining no one spoke to me, or showed much interest in me, it was a very clique group of people, and most of the choir members had been there for 30 years at least, although to be fair, one person did speak to me and she was very loving and caring. However, after two and a half years of trying to make friends with people in the choir and not succeeding, I sadly decided to leave and for a couple of years my spiritual life went very dry.
    But…… while shopping one day I saw a notice outside a local baptist church. I thought it was captivating and after another few months, I decided to give it a go. As soon as I walked into this new Church… wow!! What a warm welcome I received !! Afterwards I was walking on air and so happy. These church members were certainly what Jesus was like,full of love and genuinely interested in me as a person. One year on, I am still attending and also have joined a home group. At Easter I had an ingkling to return to the other unfriendly Church, just to hear some lovely music so I returned but it was as cold, almost empty and unfriendly as before, so I thank god that He led me to my new Church. What a blessing.

  7. Just wondering, should we really blame the Church, or are we partly to blame for the situation. The one question I used to hear when we complain about what should happen is….What are you doing to change the situation? why are you not part of the solutions? and How can you stand in the gap to make things a little better. Should we really blame the whole church, or should we draw a circle around our self and 1st start from within? Penny for you thoughts….

    • In my many years of experience, your comment is what a majority of churches say, to those people whom have been hurt. They always put the blame on the one that feels hurt. The hurt one tries to tell you, hoping for understanding but instead it is thrown straight back in their laps. The people in the world wouldn’t be that insensitive, self righteous and uncaring as that. They would say something like “oh sorry, thank you for letting us know

  8. I think churches of today’s era are falling short on the Christian beliefs that where originally set in play when the deciples first started the church on the principle and doctrines of Gods word the Holy Bible and principles and doctrines that were later further established by our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ.

    Churches today are now pampering to a changing world, whereby they are very accomodating of minority groups such as the lgbtq people and others such as anti life people like pro abortionists and there are other secular groups that are infiltrating Christianity.

    Before I am tagged as some phobic ending terminology, please understand that I believe all people are equal in Gods eyes, but their way of life styles is not always equal in Gods eyes, as is mentioned many times in the Bible.
    We will all be judged by God and Jesus when we meet our maker.

    My point is that we are seeing a decline in church participation because the church heirachy of most denominations are enshrining and accomodating non Christian beliefs into their theological mandates.

    If you are a true Christians that believes, follows and obeys Gods word, the present day churches are ambiguous in their changed doctrine that is confusing to true Christian beliefs, and that is a reason why why church participation is in decline.

    If secular groups as mentioned above desire to join the church then they should do so without fanfare and trumpet and go to church as people in a community congregation, that have a desire to get close to God and Jesus and let God and Jesus decide on judgement day if mine and their sinful ways can br forgiven.

  9. This is a great point you have raised…and very profound.
    I have been to a few churches and even spoken to some leaders but received little or no feedback.
    The welcome was fague or non-existent or it was indifferent and pre-occupied.
    When my husband, a German, rose some really important and hard questions he was ignored or overlooked….I was greatly saddened by this as he is very curious and wants to know more about the Bible and what is really represents. He is a Catholic who loves Jesus but wants to know more…and those I thought could help merely shrugged it off as though what he has to ask is lunacy or irrelevant…
    I was really sad. We have had many arguements over this. If they love Jesus why do they not love people? Why so many rules about giving and regulations in church about Jesus and what He said and did not say….
    I pray we all come to the full understanding of what It is to LOVE as Jesus DO.

  10. I attended one church for nine years and thought if I just go no matter how I’m feeling, volunteer to help at working bee’s, in the kitchen, weddings, the snack table, the coffee tea table, be part of a cell/small group, participate in series like 40 days of purpose or the marriage course, attend conferences then I’d be doing what God wants me to do and I’d make solid friends and hopefully establish myself as part of the body. Selflessly for Christ. When I look back on those 9 years I mostly remember an uphill slog where I was lonely, oftentimes judged and I never fit into the click’s that were there. Pastor’s wives and worship team spouses stuck together and they did their river walks and cafe dates.. but no-one outside of their groups were invited. After a conference once, the last activity scheduled before we all headed home was a debriefing sharing time in the hotel conference room. Our head pastors wife (also a pastor) didn’t come in with us. She sat in the dining room chatting and when asked if she was going to join us she said she was now officially on holidays. I missed her.. I wish she could have heard the testimonies of some of the ladies. Since I wished people would invite me to things I decided to I invite 17 women to my house for an afternoon tea with me prepping all the gourmet food and I even invited the ladies in leadership who didn’t rub shoulders with me socially. Every single person declined!…everyone was busy..except one person and that was a non-Christian lady from work who I’d only known for a few months.
    At my next church I attended regularly for four years.. right up until the end people were asking me if I was new. I went through some very hard times during those 4 years and was even without a roof over my head for a 2 month period. The one person who let me stay in her spare room wasn’t a Christian. She lived 90 minutes away but I still attended church and church events and my women’s group where people would be talking about their privileged lives and their next holiday and they knew I was broken on the inside. I didn’t have money to buy the church cafeteria food so I drank the free tea and watched my friends eat hearty meals. One lady would lament how she had to fly interstate again the next day for her job (a beach location).. or their yacht broke down and their house is rented out (because of their planned boat journey) so now they have to sleep on the yacht until it’s repaired. I sometimes had to skip group as the 70 minute round trip required more fuel than I could budget for. The response would be “make it if you can, I can’t apologise for where I live”.
    My last church do want newbies pounced upon and handed donuts by the congregation but the special treatment stops at about week 3. The new members welcome lunch is scheduled once a term. When I worked in the kitchen we had to put aside generous amounts of food for leadership so they wouldn’t miss out on a free baked potato with the lot. When my daughter went to a catholic school, the principal, during school fetes (if you noticed him) had gardening gloves on and was emptying rubbish bins at lunch time or his sleeves were rolled up and he’d be quietly doing dishes. He wasn’t on stage. He served without any fanfare and to date, that’s the Godliest person I’ve ever met in a position of leadership. My former pastor who definitely knew me would pretend he didn’t know me if we came eye to eye in public somewhere. The church desperately wanted to grow in numbers.. new campuses every year. International guest speakers.. even our own custom house blend of coffee beans in the cafe made especially at a roasting house somewhere. They chased me via text to keep me on volunteer teams.. even when I simply couldn’t stretch myself one week with a new job that required travel.. they persisted. In my experience the body of any church I’ve been in has been neglected. I spoke to strangers and I spoke to people who never had anyone talk to them. But if you weren’t part of the “it” crowd..we were lost somehow in the multi-media, exposed lightbulb void of the modern day church. Books could be written about folks, believers and non-believers who fall through the cracks of the trendy wood paneling.

  11. So sad!!!…. It’s part of the reason I haven’t attended ‘Institutionalised church’ for some years, despite being fully in love with and following Christ since 1984, 25 of those years being in ‘formal missions’.

    ‘The box’ of institutionalised church doesn’t fit all and whilst I will NEVER judge those who attend such a church, or tell anyone not to go there, I choose to ‘do church’ differently!

    At age 55 and suffering from severe depression and burn out following our missions experience, I found ‘church’ to be unresponsive and even completely insensitive to the hurt!!

    I’m thankful for coming across others who don’t attend institutionalised church (the ”dones) but love the Lord and seek closer relationship with Him and meet organically with them as led.

    Whilst some may call it ‘backsliding’ due to not taking time to find out how many of the ‘dones’ practice this way of following Christ, I have drawn into an even closer relationship with the lover of my soul than any time in my walk with Him 🙏

    Our western form of church is too snazzy and program and performance orientated, with leaning to a few only being ‘allowed to minister’ for me!!. Bless those who enjoy it, but as for me, I seek to fellowship with those caught on the outside, but wanting to be authentic in who they are and with others seeking the same.

    • Hello Ray
      You may find a pastor with the name of Francis Chan, right up your alley. He resonates with what you are saying on so many levels that i am sure you will find his sermons and outlook, regarding the church institution, refreshing.

      • Try Francis Chan – he has a direction to God’s Love

  12. I am very aware of the needs of others and particularly welcome newcomers. I am a Pastor and have often found myself as the one no one says hello to. Let’s be the first to greet others, offer them a cup of tea and coffee and ask them about themselves be the family you desire to have.

    • Dear Glenda I agree!
      After 3 churches in my area have told me I’m not Wanted( that is after holding positions in Groups within the church) the latter as I didn’t live in the parish( supposed to have come from Bishop) I couldn’t hold any position within the church But I could come Sunday give my tithe and listen to his sermon.
      Interestingly, a neighbor asked me to the Community Church- after attending, welcomed etc and questioned my origins( church) I was told it was better I didn’t come as the hierarchy were worried they were getting to many visitors joining their congregation and it may interfere with where they were holding meetings free!
      I have joined a distant parish church from my previous church and Welcomed with open arms! Even minister seems welcoming there!
      I still maintain Lone Diocesan membership of my groups!
      One prays for revival of Gods Love to return before churches are totally empty. PEACE

  13. I have been going to the same church for 14 years and know 3 people who say hello. It started out as a small church which was friendly but moved to much larger premises most of the old friendly people left. The church now is mainly inviting students who stick together and young families who have lots of activities together. I am 61 and suffer with depression, which isn’t welcome in the church and there is no support group. It is a large church and the Pastor has never introduced himself or his wife. Why don’t I move? Because I have no transport and feel I am wanting to attend church for worship prayer and some of the sermons. I feel so unloved.

  14. I’ve been a sole sojourner for the longest time entering various Churches – unable to settle and build autthentic relationships. Coming from a place of going it alone in everything and relying on self to overcome what I perceive to be apathy from others, it’s hard for me to overlook the lack of a welcome or realness or prayer support in the church community.

    That said, when I find myself reaching out to connect with welcomers and pastoral staff, joining the ministry and staying the course when it got uncomfortable or unloving, I found myself being less miserable and growing and taking ownership of my own happiness and also the fact that people including myself will be people.

    I have to come to an end within myself and say Lord, what would u have me a so in this community? Days when I opt to do otherwise, leaves me at the mercy of people who are beautiful letdowns – good one minute and damning the next no matter the church or place.

    I feel you and I hear you. We have all been down this road many times over for some of us, many years on end. Yet I can’t help but feel for those who have responded to Berni’s sharing (as he exhorts the church community to reach out) to also reach out to the church – who are a broken body just like u and me.

    Give yourself that chance to connect and build authentic relationships. If it doesn’t work out, u can always go your way in peace. But give it a shot, or two.

  15. Thanks for reminding us the supreme commandment of being Christ-like

  16. Too many churches have become institutions burdened by administration and finance. With a profit and loss sheet. How many customers. How much money is in the collection plate. Is it viable financially? This is NOT ministry, not the model of the church of the Acts.

    • Totally agree!! It’s business for many churches… Not Acts type church!

  17. I Thank you for your blog berni,what you described was for me and a sermon from the Lord God,l’m from London and moved out to the countryside a good time ago,l love the fresh air and the stillness and peace it brings,l Thank the Lord for his Faithfulness and Goodness in everything l can see what the problem is and your good self confirmed it,the letter to the Church in Ephesus was a warning of there loveless Church as written in Revelations and most Churches where l live now are loveless,we who are saved by Grace through Faith are part of the Elect not some country club we’re if you don’t have a £500,000 house,£50,000 car,horse’s,etc your not “in” blackslider’s and prodigals don’t bother we are the worthy one’s,What about the unworthy one’s,&”Our Lord Jesus Christ was a friend of sinner’,there’s to many “Pharisees” in the 21 century churches,prosperity gospel aargh

  18. I found a church that was welcoming in the beginning but unfortunatly I ended up finding out thday some of the people there were particularly nasty, including one member of staff and one pastor. It’s this reason I left and haven’t been back. I’ve read my bible and I guarentee you that in the end 99% of people who call themselves Christians and go to church will front Jesus and her will say “I never knew you”.

  19. I think I see more Christians who aren’t concerned about the new person or those who are going thru hard times. There doesn’t seem like there is much love in the church today.

    • 36 years since I was saved, same story. So sad

  20. Wow! Berni

    I have these tears in my eyes. I found a church who does this things I stick around because I can do those things for other people.

    You see I hug people it’s my thing. I don’t have the words. My prayers are short like God you know what you need. I rest asured because He loves me. I tell Him my troubles and ask HIM

    TO BE IN MY MIND MY HEART TO BE ON MY TOUGUE TO GIVE ME THE WORDS TO SAY OR TELL ME WHEN TO SAY NOTHING TO BE IN MY HEART AND TO GIVE ME THE EYES OF LOVE.

    Love in Christ Louise Tweedale

  21. Luckily my Church is nothing like that, Berni. I went alone for the first time over a year ago, to ACF in Rowville, and was immediately greeted while in the car park, even before I got to the greeters at the door!! Everybody smiles and says hello, good morning, etc. Ask how I am. Our pastor Luis Cabral is just lovely and remembers my name and shakes my hand every time I go. There is coffee after and people trying to find a place to sit with friendly people. At my first time I was introduced to someone who asked me to sit with them. I have never met such a friendly bunch of people. I used to go to CityLife Church, but it got too big and impersonal. You wouldn’t see the same person two weeks in a row. Here, at ACF, it is big, but not too big and definitely not impersonal. There are a lot of Asian people in the congregation, who are such friendly, happy people. What a great Church, I am so lucky God pointed me in its direction.

    God bless. Carol

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