April 2010

Welcome!

How friendly are we? Do we welcome people? I've yet to meet a church that doesn’t thinks that’s it is a friendly and welcoming church.

Many years ago Birgit was working in an inner suburban church in Melbourne. A short time before it had participated in a SWOT survey, where people wrote down what they perceived the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of the church to be. SWOT is helpful tool to help people and organisations evaluate where they are and make plans for the future. In this case, one of the highest results in the analysis of strengths was the almost universal acceptance that they were a welcoming church.

A few months later, I came to a service to support Birgit as she participated. I was stranger to the church, never having been there before. But being a ‘churchy’ person, I knew the ropes and at the end of the rather enjoyable worship service found my way to the church hall at the back for the cuppa. In the half hour or so I was in the hall waiting for Birgit, apart from the smile from the lady serving the teas and coffee, not one person approached me. I had three cups of coffee and got three smiles from the tea lady, but that was it.

The problem with SWOT surveys and the likes is that they give the results of those on the inside of the group or organisation. One reason the insiders are there is that they are (generally) happy with the group or organisation. Those who are dissatisfied don’t participate because they have ceased coming or never joined in the first place.

Especially in a group like the church where, because of our commitment to our Lord, many of us have come for many a year, we establish friendships with fellow attenders. For many, coming to church is a place of meeting old friends and acquaintances. The cuppa after the service becomes a great opportunity to catch up with each other. That is good and proper. But sometime it can blind us to how newer people or visitors or those on the outside can feel. The church to a visitor can feel a lot less welcoming and friendly than to those who are talking with the friend they haven’t seen for a week or two.

The biblical concept is hospitality. It encompasses friendliness, warmth and generosity. It assumes that we can make a step or three to being welcoming and friendly, even if we have to leave our comfort zone a bit. Many of us feel strange going up to someone we haven’t been introduced to and opening a conversation. It isn’t easy. But it is the responsibility of each of us to welcome the visitor and the outsider and those who aren’t ‘plugged in’ to the very supportive network that is this church.

There is a sign across the top of the notice board in the welcome area. It says ‘Welcome to Christ Church’. Is the sign true?

David