Often, we think we have a warm, friendly church, when we only are warm and friendly to the people already a part of the church. One place in particular that needs a very intense look is our church’s small groups/Sunday School classes.
What I have discovered a few years ago in the months of being a family without a church is that many of our Sunday School classes (or other small groups) seem significantly cold and uncaring to outsiders. On the contrary, these groups should be especially sensitive to visitors who need a place to plug in and share life in a path of discipleship.
Here is what I have observed. We had attended one church that seemed very welcoming in their corporate worship time. There seemed to be a culture of love and acceptance to newcomers there. We decided to attend a Sunday School class. The first class we attended welcomed us with open arms, engaged us in conversation, treated us as if we were good friends, and made us feel very much a part of the group. The next time we visited the church, we went to another class to see what it was like. We arrived about 15 minutes before they actually began the “lesson time.” When we entered, someone said something like, “Nice to have you with us today.” Then the next 15 minutes, everyone carried on conversations among themselves, but no one–not a single person, engaged us in conversation at all. It was as if we didn’t even exist. After the class was over, we exited the room without anyone speaking to us. Thinking that we might have gone on an unusual Sunday, we gave the class another try, this time was almost as cold as the first time. We left the class thinking what an incredibly inward-focused class that was.
Then I began to think back to days when I was an active part of a church before our move. I wondered how much different our church was in treating visitors in our Sunday School classes. Then I asked the BIG question–how often did I overlook going out of my way to meet visitors and try to connect with them in their life’s journey. I am sure there were times I was so busy “doing church” that I failed to BE the church and reach out to those around me.
If our churches have a true missionary mentality, we have to crawl out of our comfort zones and engage people that enter our classes and our worship services and show them God’s love and grace.
I encourage you to take a long, hard look at your church; encourage each Sunday School class/small group to really wrestle with their welcoming environment and to take steps to become more intentional in their outreach. Then, take a long, hard look at how you welcome those new people around you. Remember they are God’s creations needing to connect with people with whom they can share life and grow to be more like Christ.
How are you and your church doing?
Due to my husband’s ministry position, we are frequently in different churches. I have experienced friendly and chilly environments. But what has probably disturbed me the most is the “selective” engagements where churches are overly friendly and welcoming to people that “fits” their profile of who they want in their congregation . Church members who warmly welcome a family with a dad, mom and children while ignoring a woman with two daughters, who were also visitors also to the church sitting near the family.