Welcoming Visitors

A strong characteristic of our denomination is that we like each other and enjoy being together. We take our work together seriously, but that does not mean we should not have fun. God created us to be relational beings, and relating to others has always been and still is at the heart of Grace Communion International. Our vision statement is “all kinds of churches for all kinds of people in all kinds of places.” I pray that all our congregations reflect that vision.

Many studies have sought to pinpoint what leads visitors to return to a church. A key factor is the friendliness of the people. This is reflected in the experience of a man who visited 18 churches on successive Sundays, seeking to learn what these churches were really like. Here is his report:

I sat near the front. After the service, I walked slowly to the rear, then returned to the front and went back to the foyer using another aisle. I smiled and was neatly dressed. I asked one person to direct me to a specific place: a fellowship hall, pastor’s study, etc. I remained for coffee, if served. I used a scale to rate the reception I received. I awarded points on the following basis:

  • 10 for a smile from a worshiper
  • 10 for a greeting from someone sitting nearby
  • 100 for an exchange of names
  • 200 for an invitation to have coffee
  • 200 for an invitation to return
  • 1000 for an introduction to another worshiper
  • 2000 for an invitation to meet the pastor

On this scale, eleven of the eighteen churches earned fewer than 100 points. Five actually received less than 20.

Though all the churches likely had uplifting music and biblically sound, inspiring preaching, most did not have ways to show visitors that people cared that they were there. As a result, it is unlikely that visitors will return. In contrast, churches that openly reflect the relational aspect of God’s nature give visitors great encouragement to return. You could sum it up by saying that people are looking for a place to belong, not just a group with shared beliefs.

Several years ago, I read a story told by someone whose name I cannot recall. There was a surgeon who specialized in reattaching fingers. When he entered the operating room, he knew he faced many hours of squinting into a microscope, sorting out and stitching together the snarl of nerves, tendons and blood vessels—many finer than a human hair. A single mistake and the patient could permanently lose movement or sensation.

On one occasion, the surgeon received an emergency call at three in the morning. He was not looking forward to undertaking an intricate procedure at that early hour. To help him focus, he decided to dedicate that surgery to his father, who had recently died. For the next several hours, he imagined his father standing beside him, encouraging him with a hand on his shoulder.

This technique worked so well that he began dedicating all his surgeries to other people he knew. Then one day he realized that as a Christian, he should offer his life to God in the same way. All the routine things of his day—answering phone calls, dealing with staff, seeing patients, scheduling surgeries—remained the same, but somehow they were different. The desire to live a life for God now began to overshadow his days, and he soon began to treat others with more respect and care.

We may not be surgeons, but God calls us to co-minister with Jesus, who is the ultimate surgeon—repairing broken lives. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if we could dedicate each day to the Lord, imagining him standing beside us with a hand on our shoulders, watching us, guiding us, counseling us and walking with us? The truth is that it is not just a product of our imagination. God is omnipresent and by his Spirit is personally with us. He has called us to co-minister with him in both simple and profound ways, from offering a smile to performing neurosurgery.

When we live with this perspective, we discover that even the ordinary and routine things in our lives will become saturated with a sense of his holy presence with us. Some of us are naturally more outgoing than others, but never underestimate the importance of showing yourself friendly. When new people visit our congregations, they are probably more nervous about you than you are about them. They don’t know what to expect, and when they find that they are welcome and accepted, it is a powerful incentive to return.

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