“You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Have you ever had the experience of being a visitor in church and not one single person has greeted you, spoken to you, sat beside you, or offered you any assistance? Sadly, there are a lot of stories around which suggest this experience is all too common. Often, we only get one opportunity to get the welcome right. As Bishop Sally Dyck has pointed out, for visitors to our churches ‘This Sunday is the only Sunday that counts’.
Many of us are so used to the way things work in our churches that we have forgotten what it is like for someone who comes in for the first time. Maybe it would be a valuable experience for us all to visit a different church every now and then, to remind ourselves how daunting and confusing it can be.
A friend of mine regularly goes into churches as a ‘mystery worshipper’ and offers churches feedback on the welcome she receives and on how they could make their church more open and accessible. Imagine for a moment that she came to your church. What do you think she would notice?
Just how good is the welcome offered in our churches? How good are we at giving directions, explaining how the service works, and making sure people feel at home? How good are we at getting alongside people so that they feel supported and cared for?
As we reflect on these things, Robert Schnase offers us a prayer and challenge:
Dear God, open my heart so that I can see people as Jesus sees them,
and see Jesus in the people you bring into our community.
Make me attentive to others,
and help me support the newcomer taking tentative steps towards you.
Challenge: Commit yourself to offering a simple and gracious word of greeting in worship each week to one person whom you do not know.