When Kimmie and I got married we decided to attend a different church than her parents. It was a great church, but we wanted to feel independent. As we looked up websites for potential places to visit, we noticed a common theme. Churches loved to promote their friendliness. Homepages filled the screen with cheesy stock photos of smiling faces. But when we arrived on Sunday mornings we discovered the opposite.
As we visited each church, we saw plenty of friendliness, but not towards us. Everyone was being friendly with each other. We looked around, unsure of where to go or what to do. After a couple minutes, we weaved through the numerous coffee huddles and found our seats. After service we stood, waited awhile, and left. That happened every week. We visited both big and small churches. After two months we went back to my in-laws’ church. Sound familiar?
You're Not as Friendly As You Think
This isn't a sob story. In fact, I’m thankful for the experience. Growing up in a Christian home, I didn't know how it felt to be on the other side of the Sunday morning handshake. I realized that Christians mistake having friends at church for being a friendly church.
Chances are that the church you attend is not as friendly as you think. That doesn’t mean you don’t attend a good one. It just means that comfortability makes it difficult to see what’s really there—or not there. Here are three ways to change that.
1. Shake Things Up
Abraham Lincoln had a habit. Every evening he sat next to someone different. Not only did it help him learn names. It gave him the opportunity to connect with more people. This proved invaluable later on in his political career.
Humans live according to habit. Sundays are no exception. Christians often fail to be friendly because they’re stuck in the same routine. They sit in the same spot every Sunday, so they only get to connect with the people sitting near them. They come and go at the same time every week, so they never chat with someone on a slightly different schedule.
Habits create an inward-focused experience. To fight this, force yourself to sit on a different side of the pastor every week. Or, arrive at a different time each Sunday (but never late!). Talk to one person you don't know. You'll be surprised how little you know your church!
2. Seek Strangers
I’ll tell you a secret. I don’t always enjoy meeting new people. Don’t tell the elders! But I’m not alone. Most people categorize themselves as shy. Even many "outgoing" people see themselves as true introverts.
No wonder churches have such a hard time being friendly to guests. When they see someone new, they think things like:
"What if I say something stupid?"
"We might run out of things to talk about."
"What if I’m stuck with this person the entire morning!"
Or, my favorite one: “The pastor will do it.” Guests can smell an eager-beaver pastor from a mile away. They already think it’s his job to be nice to them. Worse, half the time they believe he’s trying to win them over to pad the offering statistics. (Spoiler alert: we're not).
Church is not something you go to. Church is something you are. Do you attend church because of your friends? Great. But recognize the power of friendship in church and extend it to someone new. Otherwise, church becomes a temple to each person's own idol of chit-chat.
3. Stay Connected Throughout the Week
If you're like me, you put on a friendly show on Sundays, but then act like a grump the rest of the week. One of the best ways to become a friendlier church is to reach out to people during between Sundays. Imagine if you not only talked to a first-time visitor, but invited him for coffee the next day? Or, invited her to go walking with you and your girlfriends? It’s during those times that real ministry occurs. Even a simple phone call can impact someone. Me? I love connecting with people at our local grocery store. Every time I go I meet someone from church. It doesn't hurt that the store also sells $.25 ice cream cones. Ministry's a tough job but someone's gotta do it.
Keith Ferrazzi, a secular author, wrote a book titled, Never Eat Alone. The book stressed the value of maximizing each day so it’s spent on people instead of tasks. Have an errand to run? Invite your neighbor. Need to make a Costco trip? Invite someone you met from church to go with you. You can even buy them lunch. A Costco hotdog and soda costs only $1.50. We don’t have many excuses left.
Friendships thrive when life happens together. Sunday mornings from 9:30-11:30am are not life. Real life happens in the car, out in the garden, and at the grocery store. Want to be a friendly church? Invite people to take part in life you with you.
Most of you reading this will do nothing. You may nod your head in agreement and try for a week. Or you may agree that other people should be friendly. Excuses stand in the way of obedience. Growth, change, and impact are concepts that live on the other side of the line we call our comfort zone. If a church seeks to be a place of faith, it must be a place of friendliness, because friendliness requires faith. Next Sunday, stretch your faith by being friendly to others.
Resting in Him,