Tuesday, December 4, 2012

All together now…

Pretty much every church I enter, I’m greeted by a greeting. By which I mean that something- a bulletin board, a sign, a person- addresses me as a visitor, invariably claiming, “Welcome to our church. So glad you’re here. This (insert programs, values, beliefs here) is who we are. ” That’s what Christians do. We offer hospitality. It’s partly recruiting effort, obviously. But mostly, it’s showing love.

I love the stories from earlier days in our ministry, when Plymouth Creek (what was then New Ventures) worshipped in a local motel. Because the room used was near the building’s rear, I’m told, we stationed greeters in the lobby to greet first time attendees and usher them back to worship. Think of the personal attention such a mechanism allowed. “Thanks for coming. I’ll walk you back. Tell me, what brought you to our church?” Brilliant move, amen?! Unless the person simply wanted a room…

With a dedicated building, though, things have changed. Yet we’ve always had signs and processes for saying, “Welcome.” Indeed, for a long time, there was a welcome desk containing a folder for collecting contact info, staffed by church volunteers giving friendly smiles. A few years back, we eliminated that folder, since people these days are much more sensitive to privacy. Then, a few months back, we stopped scheduling greeters. In fact, we’ve moved that desk so far from the door there’s now no immediate sign addressing guests. It’s almost like we’ve eliminated the hospitality ministry.

So have we lost our minds?! Have we stopped caring?! I’ll be honest, several church folk have asked me questions along those lines. Very correctly, they’ve expressed concern about what message that sends. If no one’s up front to greet folk, will they ever get greeted? Shouldn’t the church go out of its way to make sure visitors feel welcome? Why would we change without something new in its place? Good points, all. Here’s my response.

The thing is, I don’t believe “Hospitality” is one church ministry among many. Rather, I’m convinced it’s the basic thing we do. Which is to say that none of us should ever feel like it’s someone else’s job to provide welcome. And if we’re not careful, we can fall into that pattern. I’ve often witnessed someone walk through the door who no one recognizes, then have PCCC folk beeline to…not to her, but me. “Shane, we’ve got visitors,” they’ll say. “Go say hi.” Obviously, this acknowledges an important idea- the minister should make time to welcome guests. But it also seems to suggest that’s purely my job, not ours. Ditto if we rely on designated greeters each Sunday morning. That can tempt us to think, “Someone else has it; I’m off the hook.

Now, I’m realistic. I don’t think everyone should huddle by the door, waiting for new people. That would be awkward. Plus, many of us have other important Sunday tasks. Moreover, an important thing we get from Sundays is time with friends, catching up with those we love, which really matters. Not to the exclusion of welcoming new folk, but it’s certainly critical. Nevertheless, I still think it’d be great if we all contributed to the church’s hospitality. Maybe you’re good at initiating conversation. If so, be on the lookout. Maybe you’re more comfortable saying, “Nice to meet you. Can I get you a bulletin?” Do it! Perhaps you’d rather arrange the introduction to the minister, giving that visitor a greeting two-for-one. It’s lovely if you’re simply best at opening doors and smiling.

The point is, we stopped scheduling “greeters” to see how it feels if hospitality was a necessarily shared endeavor. I’m not wedded to that scheme enduring until eternity, but I’d like to push you to help shoulder your part. If you usually avoid new people, take a risk, make a friend. If you often forget to look around, try to remember. If, instead, you repeatedly come on real strong, step back and trust others (I’m trying…). And please send me your feedback, concerns and suggestions. I mean, we are all in this together, aren’t we?

Besides, Jesus said something like, “love your neighbor…”. To everyone.

Grace and Peace,


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