It happens in every church, big and small.
There are those families who show up on a Sunday morning, who shake a hand of someone and make it through the service, looking relatively engaged. They may stay to greet a few people afterwards…but they never show up again.
Or, it could be that one young guy who came in late. If your church has a bulletin, he might have missed picking it up on the way in and now a member is helping him. But, after a while he seems to be getting the hang of it, even sharing a prayer during joys and concerns. Maybe he comes back a couple of times…but then he doesn’t return.
And, lastly, it could be the two women who came in together. They sat together. But one of them walks out during the sermon and the other follows shortly behind. You never get a chance to meet them. And you don’t know why they left. It’s the last you see of them.
The churches I’ve served have had a lot of people go through them over the years. There are a lot of die-hard folks who are there all the time. But there are those who visit and we never see afterwards; never really get a chance to meet them and know them. You never get a chance to show them what great, loving, Christ-like people you are.
And I understand some of the reasons folks would be “one and done” when it comes to visiting a church. And many of these reasons are things that cannot be immediately addressed. Persons may find the church too big or too small. They might think the pastor is too young or too liberal or conservative. And, I know some who have left churches because they couldn’t deal with a female or ethnic minority pastor or a pastor with an accent. Even if these are viewed as “problems” they aren’t going away anytime soon.
In churches I’ve served, I know we’ve had young families come in and leave to seek a church with more young families. I know we’ve had folks who who thought the service was too formal, with too much liturgy. Some have left because we’ve had kids in worship and they believed church should be more quiet than that. And, I’m well aware that some folks haven’t liked the way I preach.
And no church is going to appeal to all persons. While the number of denominations and independent churches in the United States can seem like a burden a lot of the time, it is indicative of the breadth of theology and music style and personalities of the people called Christian…and the folks we’re trying to reach. We’re a pretty diverse group.
And I recognize that any church I serve can’t be all things to all people. It’s just not going to happen. And, in our present setting, there’s about 17 other churches I could direct someone to if they had reason to leave.
But, what I don’t want is for someone to leave because they felt unwelcome. I don’t want that young family, or guy who came in late, or the woman who left mid-sermon to walk out because they didn’t feel like we welcomed them to be with us in the first place. We may not have the program or demographic or theology you may be looking for. I may be way too casual. You might find our hymnal a burden. But we should be hospitable. We should want you to be with us and we should be thankful that you were with us; for however long you were.
And the reason is that each person who comes through our doors (or is with us in the community) is a chance to show Grace and Mercy and Love and Welcome to God. And it’s the same grace and mercy and love and mercy and welcome that God has shown to us. And it’s the same grace and love and mercy that Jesus demands of us.
Remember that great story from Genesis 18, where Abraham and Sarah were hospitable to three strangers and found they were angels in their midst. Remember that Paul said, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Remember that Jesus has said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36).
Not only are we to be welcoming to those who might “fit in” and those who are like us; we are welcoming even those who are furthest from where we are.
So, yes, I understand that there are reasons why persons choose one church over another.
But it should never be because they felt unwelcome