I had the opportunity to meet the world's worst church visitor this week.
A harsh designation, perhaps, but this individual seemed to be looking for every reason to not be there. Maybe she had been burned by another congregation. Maybe she just had a prickly personality. Maybe she was purposely setting herself up for rejection so she would have an excuse not to attend church again. I'm not sure, because this person refused to open up at all.
With church attendance in general decline, there is a desperation among churches to pad their pews with new visitors. You'll rarely, if ever, find a church content with its attendance numbers, and this is not to say that all churches are concerned with numbers. Scripture commands us to seek out those without an active spiritual walk, show them God's love and draw them into a loving fellowship of believers. Not every church is this altruistic, but many are, which is why there is a constant push to attract visitors to a congregation.
The church has this responsibility, but every potential member of a church should be aware of their responsibility.
Sabrina, not her real name, was visibly skeptical when she dropped off her kids to the mid-week kids program. She stood in the back of the room, arms crossed, scowling. A few church members tried to engage her in conversation, to which she gave short, curt answers, outright ignoring some.
"Where are you from?" I asked her.
"Planet Earth," she responded.
OK, I said. I asked if something was wrong, sensing some tension. No, she said, softening slightly.
"But we might not come back," she said, cutting her eyes toward me, looking for a reaction.
I should probably mention that a propensity toward compassion is not my natural inclination. I'll tell you I quietly nodded and reiterated the fact that we were glad she and her children were there, an action that was against my impulse to sarcastically reply, "That's fine. I'm sure there are other congregations that would love to have a sourpuss on their member roles." I thought it, but I didn't say it.
It's hard to be a visitor to a new church family. It's hard to acclimate to a group of people you've never met before. It's hard to be vulnerable. I get it - I've been a visitor to a church.
However, there is an expectation some have of churches, wherein which churches should pander to visitors. Scripture calls us to welcome others into our family. It also calls us to hold each other to a higher standard.
First, church is a congregation of imperfect people (Romans 3:10), a single fact that should make no one person intimidating. We are all guilty. This levels the playing field for any visitor who darkens the doorway of our churches.
Second, we are called to an active, healthy part of the body of the church (1 Corinthians 12:27). It means we have a function as a member of the church - we are not passive participants. We contribute our gifts, talents and resources to one another. If you are honestly looking for a new church family, you need to understand your role.
Third, you'll need to be a little vulnerable. You'll need to share with those in your church family (Galatians 6:2). This one notion still stumps lifelong members of church. We are called to carry one another's burdens. If you refuse to let others share in your life, then you are denying them the ability to minister to you in whatever season of life you find yourself in.
Email Jamie H. Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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