“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?