A Word for Shy Church Members

“Pastor, I’m sorry, but I can’t just walk up to strangers at church and introduce myself and welcome them the way you’re asking us to. That’s just not my nature. I’m sorry.”

We all know the feeling. You walk into your church on Sunday morning, thinking about your Sunday School lesson or a hundred unrelated things. You greet a couple of friends on the way in, see some elderly member who needs a hug, get stopped by someone with a question about tonight’s fellowship, and you rush along. You did happen to notice that unfamiliar family looking lost in the entranceway, but you were in a hurry. Hopefully, someone will step up and assist them.

You hope someone will. You hope.

Now to be honest here, not every visitor to church looks as though they would welcome a greeting. Some wear frowns that signal their distaste for any social contact. Some may as well wear signs around their necks shouting, “Stand back!”

And, being respectful people, we don’t want to intrude. If they don’t want to be greeted, we can accommodate them. So, we look away and walk on.

Not all unfriendly churches are made up of cold people. Most are composed of salt-of-the-earth church members who want to do the right thing, but are a little shy and do not want to come across as pushy. They don’t want to intrude.

I have a word — two, actually — to shy Christians.

First: Get over it.

At church, you are the host. As a member, you are the host every bit as much as if they had just walked into your home. It is your responsibility, your privilege, you great opportunity even, to walk up to the newcomer, look him/her straight in the eye, give them your best smile, and say, “Good morning! My name is Joe. We’re delighted to have you here today!” (I like to remind new members of the church that they too are hosts. Today’s newcomers have no clue that you just joined the church last Sunday. Walk up and greet them.)

That’s how it’s done. Now, practice doing that.

Easy, isn’t it.

No? Well, it will be after you’ve done it a few times.

Most of us shy people — I’m one, too — have actually done a number on ourselves. We have self-talked ourselves out of our introversion and preoccupation with what others are thinking ormay be thinking about us. We have convinced ourselves that the fear of rejection is groundless and foolish and that we are fully able to meet the newcomers and welcome them to church, and that in doing so, we may end up making some lifelong friends.

It has happened. Many of my best friends showed up at church as new residents to our city and were seeking their next place of worship. Since I was the pastor, the act of greeting them was easier than for anyone else in the church. The pastor is more the host of a church than any other member, so it’s the most natural thing in the world for him to greet strangers with a warm smile and handshake. However, I’ve met a lot of preachers who have trouble with this. My word to them, also, is: get over it; you can do this.

After the guests have heard me preach, they feel they know me, so greeting them after the service or knocking on their door that week was like visiting a new friend.

My other “word” for timid Christians is this: Everyone is shy. Really. Even the most extrovert of us is basically at heart a shy individual who has to make himself/herself walk up to strangers and greet them. Few people are born with the personality of a used-car salesman. Most of us have to work hard to overcome our natural hesitancy of meeting new people and learn to turn on the smile and stick out our hand.

Give those newcomers credit. They’re probably shy, too, but look what they did. They sought out your church, went to the trouble of finding the times of the service, and made their way here. They were going where they did not know a soul, and for most of us, that’s more than a little scary. They took the risk because they thought it was worth the trouble to find the church where the Lord wants them. They think it could be your church.

You ought to be most complimented.

And you ought to help them out.

Anyone can be friendly to his friends. Every church on the planet succeeds in that skill, even those perceived as cold or even dead. But it’s the great churches that train their members to welcome strangers and newcomers and make them feel at home, and to do it without being pushy or intrusive.

I’m writing this on Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving. Last night, our church held its annual “agape feast,” a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in the fellowship hall. It’s always well attended, and we can expect to see long-absent friends who are back to visit their families for the holidays. So, we get our necks hugged a lot, we learn the names of the new babies, and we remark on how old friends have changed. And one thing more….

We meet lots of new people.

At every table, there were people I didn’t know. Some looked like they were right at home and were enjoying the fellowship. Others looked as though they were Baptists at a Jehovah Witness convention, and completely out of place.

I’m no longer the pastor, but I know from personal experience the value of a warm welcome. So, I took a chair across the table from these new friends, and got acquainted. The tablecloths were paper, so after a few preliminaries, I pulled out my pen and drew sketches of the children on the table. Later, they could be seen cutting out that portion of the paper — or moving over to sit in front of that drawing so no one else would sit there and splash tea or spill food on it.

I should have brought along my sketch pad, but I didn’t for good reason: it would have looked like I was intending to push myself on these friends. “Oh no, there’s Brother Joe. Get ready to be drawn!”

See? I told you I’m shy also.

I’m just still getting over it. You, too?

11 thoughts on “A Word for Shy Church Members

  1. Loved the article Brother Joe. When I was a new visitor a woman said to me,”Oh we are going to be great friends!” Those were such wonderful words for a shy person like me to hear.

    Over a decade later and Gloria and I are still great friends.

    I hope I can always just,”Get over it.”

  2. A man moved into town, and asked me if people were friendly at my church. I asked him were the

    peole friendly at the church he last belonged to. He said very friendly. And I said they are very friendly also at mine. ”A MAN WHO WANTS FRIENDS, MUST SHOW HIMSELF FRIENDLY.”

  3. One of the advantages of being pastor of a small church as I am now, Joe, is that I get to shake hands with everybody before the service begins to welcome them, and then again afterwards as they leave. After 5 years of doing this I have noticed that many of our members do the same thing, and we now have the reputation of being a friendly church. After the service I always remind everybody to “Shake hands with your neighbors.” Thanks for your article on this. Hugh Martin

  4. Joe, what an awesome article! WE MUST BE A FRIENDLY CHURCH! I have been pastor of a small church in southeastern okla for 3 years now, I’ve heard remarks that we are a friendly church from are visitors and now the community. At one time, our church didn’t have that pleasant of a reputation. You have covered it well in this article, keep up the good work!

  5. I can say from personal experience- if you are having trouble doing something the Lord convicted you to do- ask Him to grow that trait in you. I recently struggled with something and after much bible study and prayer, prayed for God to grow this righteousness in me. I watched in amazement when the right response just bubbled up out of me later that month. I should not have been suprised (I am ashamed that I was). It was not a struggle or a trial just an immediate response filled with the Holy Spirit. You can not work hospitality in your own strength but He can work it in you.

  6. I work in our Welcome Center at our church each Sunday and have the privilege to welcome a lot of wonderful people to our church and guide them to where they would like to go – Small group or worship service. Several are visiting Disney but find time to come to church, while others may have just moved here.

  7. Another thing to remember is if you happen to have a visitor in Sunday School, make sure they know how to get to the worship center for church. Having recently moved, I was visiting churches for the first time in over 20 years. I went to one church for Sunday School, everyone knew I was a visitor and was there alone and everyone walked out the door without asking me if I knew how to get to the worship center. That was a tough Sunday. The church we ended up joining was a different experience.

  8. Great article! Most visitors are very appreciative of anyone who takes a few minutes to talk with them. And it’s a great way to increase membership and meet new friends. I “shopped” about 20 churches in my new community before joining one, and did not go back to the unfriendly churches. The intro questions are not difficult: What is your name? Where are you from? Are you already a Christian? Would you like to sit in my pew during the service? Do you have any questions? Would you like a follow-up call or visit? We just need to get past our excuses and move out of our habits and comfort zones. The churches that are most viable today seem to have people practicing the art of being friendly and helpful.

  9. Joe, I am basically a shy person – a statement my husband never agreed with – he said “any one who can meet some one at a grocery store and become

    staunch friends is not timid”. Somehow I’ve always felt inferior – certainly not a pretty person and never as well dressed as my class mates, etc. but, God has given me the ability and desire to be friendly which I do with gusto. This has helped me in my real estate work. Yep,

    God is Good All the Time”. Myrtle Urquhart

  10. A friend of mine was recently mentioning a church where they gave loaves of freshly baked bread to first-time visitors. This was nice and friendly in and of itself, but then at coffee hour after the service the newbies were easily identifiable as they were the ones carrying around loaves of bread! We all thought this was brilliant.

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