No one spoke to you at church? That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).

“We’re not going back to that church. We attended once and not a soul spoke to us.”

This may be the most common complaint offered by church visitors.

Our people have come to expect that churches will be welcoming to strangers, open to newcomers, receptive to inquirers, and alert to first-timers.

Some have figured out the system, too, and have built their church structure around smoozing people coming onto their grounds for the first time. Greeters find you in the parking lot, shake your hand outside the front door, welcome you inside the foyer, guide you to the best seats, and load you down with gifts.  Perhaps they’re overdoing it, but most would agree that this is far better than the cold shoulder some churches turn.

Our people have come to demand a warm reception from the church they visit for the first time.

And when they do not get it, the church gets a failing grade.

Poor hospitality says to these visitors that your church is cold, your people are zombies, your preacher is failing in his job, and the congregation’s love for the Lord is probably suspect.

Hold on. Not too fast.

Can we analyze this situation?

First, in my experience this kind of criticism comes from veteran church members, rarely from the unchurched. The typical non-Christian may prefer to slip into a church unannounced and sample the service, the sermon, etc., in private as opposed to being swamped by attention and showered with gifts.  (And what does that say about us veterans, if we expect to be treated as special when we enter the House of God?)

Second, it is indeed true that some churches are cold, dead, bound by tradition, and hostile toward newcomers. That should not come as a shock to anyone.  The fact that we keep discovering churches that are like this is no fun, to be sure.

Third, each of us might be surprised to know that some have visited our church back home and found the same kind of cool reception. So, the failure to welcome visitors warmly does not automatically indicate a dead church, only that we are weak in an area that needs attention.

Fourth, your experience should make you a better church-greeter and newcomer-welcomer back home. In our text above (Leviticus 19:34), God told the Israelites that having been aliens in Egypt should have prepared them for the experience of being newcomers in a hostile land and thus make them better neighbors to strangers.

Fifth, maybe there were good reasons no one spoke to you. Let’s try to think of some…

1) They took one look at your face, read all too clearly the “Keep Back!” expression you were wearing, and honored your visual message.

2) They were visitors themselves and were disappointed you did not speak to them.

3) They were preoccupied with a hundred and one matters–getting to their class, teaching the lesson, fixing the coffee, looking after the children, finding their family, and so forth. We’ve all done this.

4) They were feeling down. Ever felt down yourself?

5) The last time they spoke to a visitor, the newcomer rebuffed them.

6) They discovered the hard way that some visitors want to be left alone to worship in solitude and come to their own decision about going further into the church.

I can recall going up to a lady who was clearly with us for the first time and greeting her and making a couple of gentle inquiries about her. She said, “I am not comfortable with being singled out like this!” And she walked away.  It happens.

7) They thought it looked like you were being well taken care of and did not want to smother you with too much friendliness, which is almost as bad as not enough.

8) They are shy and naturally reserved.  We understand shyness, don’t we?

9) Some of the non-greeters are seekers and need the Lord themselves, even if their names are on the church rolls.  Until Christ enters their lives and frees them from their fears and the dead-weight of their guilt, they will not relax and learn to love and give.

10) Perhaps the big reason no one spoke to you in that church was: God didn’t want them to.

God was up to something.

(I’m recalling the fellow who was cursing King David as he fled Jerusalem with his entourage just ahead of his rebellious and murderous son Absalom.  One of David’s men asked for permission to take off the guy’s head. David said, “No. Perhaps the Lord told him to say that.” II Samuel 16:10. )

Doubtless, the Lord your God wanted you to come to church for Him, to worship Him, to give to Him the glory which is His rightful due.  He wanted you to get your eyes off people and onto Him.

And this is the way He chose to push you in this direction.

Perhaps that’s what this was all about.

Your refusing to ever return to that church would mean missing out on what God has for you in this situation.

11. And, finally, let’s admit the obvious may also be true: the people did not welcome you because they are cold and complacent and need a revival.

That may be why the Lord wants you in that church.  He might be sending a live wire like you to set a good example by being hospitable and friendly. You could turn that fellowship around, as friendly a person as you are.

Unless you mark them off because they are unfriendly.

Say, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?

“Are there days when you don’t feel friendly yourself? When you’d rather not speak to anyone, but be left alone?”

I know that feeling and bet you do, too.

Maybe that’s what was going on with those church people.

Let’s cut them some slack and love them anyway.

Now, do yourself one huge favor and ask the Lord if He wants you to go back to that church and to look past the childish notion of counting the number of  people who spoke to you.

Maybe He wants you to (ahem) “Grow up!”


2 thoughts on “No one spoke to you at church? That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  1. My insecurities brought me here… And this is spot on. Thanks. It is daunting going to a new church, but I’m having to try a closer location from a 45 minute drive to just around the corner. It’s a big place with a lot of rooted members and as a veteran churchgoer, in my heart I know it is a device of the enemy to go in judging them either for being a big church, not speaking, or any number of things. But I’m getting ready and going this morning with my kids anyway, because it’s about God’s glory and His story, not mine.

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