My friend Wanda developed a friendship over several years with a professional massage therapist. Wanda said that she is a delightful person, but a bit fragile. They have told one another their life stories, including the journey of faith for each of them.
Wanda’s friend said that she has struggled to believe in God when there is so much pain and suffering in the world. Without pushing her, Wanda shared what keeps her believing in God, Jesus, and the church.
It was a slow process, but a few months ago, Wanda’s friend casually shared that she had been going to church for over a month. She loved the community and was proud to have made that decision. She felt like she belonged for the first time.
Because of travel and other distractions, Wanda had not seen her friend for six weeks. However, she emailed Wanda last week, asking if she would be coming in soon. She had never contacted Wanda directly, so Wanda thought there must be something on her mind.
Five minutes into the session, after some silence, the friend said, “I quit going to church.” When asked if something had happened, she teared up and said that the church does this “passing of the peace” moment, and the last time she was there, no one spoke to her. Everyone around her was greeted, but not her. No one looked her in the eye or shook her hand.
Wanda wrote in a social media post: “I fear she will never go back. I know that no one there purposefully excluded her, regardless of how it felt to her, but that is beside the point. Making visitors stand and speak their name or stand and wait for someone to shake their hand is terrifying to many, particularly visitors or new to church people. I live with three introverts, and I assure you this is a problem.”
Wanda advocates that if churches continue to include this type of moment in worship, there needs to be an explanation for their purpose and a plan with assigned leaders to spread out and make sure that everyone receives a greeting.
First Baptist doesn’t have a time like this in worship, but sadly, many guests might feel “passed over” when no one speaks to them before or after worship.
“Unmet expectations are the bane of all relationships, be it person to person-or people within our church walls,” Wanda writes. “My friend’s pain has overwhelmed me several times today, and I know she is not alone. I hope we will look around, reevaluate, and make a welcoming and compassionate plan for those who have the courage to walk through our doors.”
Each week, First Baptist enjoys the presence of guests. They are not visitors. They are honored guests. A visitor is someone who shows up for a business or social event. A guest is invited and expected. Preparations are made for guests, and those who feel prepared for and cared for will want to come back.
Yesterday we had many guests in worship. Some came especially for the baptism of Tyler and Brandon Beddingfield. Others showed up for the 180th celebration party. Still others were there because the Spirit of God happened to lead them to FBC. It was a great day of worship and fellowship- made all the more special because of the honored guests among us!
I love it when I see our members go out of their way to speak to guests. We always want every person to feel welcomed and blessed. We also want every guest to not have any distraction or disappointment that keeps them from worshiping the Living God.
Pam Neal is our Minister for Congregational Care, which includes hospitality, guest relations, and Discover First. While we have an awesome team of volunteers, Pam is in need of more persons who will serve as greeters, ushers, parking lot attendants, and Welcome Center helpers. If you would like to be a part of this vital ministry, perhaps once or twice a month, you can email [email protected].
But even if you don’t feel led to help in this way, you can welcome the guests around you each Sunday. You can introduce yourself, look people in the eye, and ask a question to get to know someone. You can invite them to a Sunday School class or a fellowship. Who knows how God will use this simple interaction? You may be the link to someone becoming a long-time member of First Baptist.
Hebrews reminds us, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so, some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (13:2, NIV). Don’t pass up the opportunity God gives you when you see a guest in the coming weeks. That person just might be an angel among us.
I love you and I’m thankful to be a part of our incredible church. Let’s keep welcoming new people in and experiencing the joy that comes from seeing the Body of Christ grow.
Have an awesome week.
Pastor Brent McDougal
One other thought…When was the last time you invited someone a church event? God can use you in that way, too, as you help others find a family of faith. Commit to welcoming guests each week and inviting someone to church between now and the end of the year.