Is There Room?
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. –Luke 2:6-7
The greatest story ever told begins in a manger. With a star shining above, the animals, visiting shepherds and a baby sleeping on the hay. Due to the large influx of people for Caesar Augustus’ census, Bethlehem was sprawling with people. The city was over capacity and as a result, Mary and Joseph are relegated to the stables opposed to their own room at the inn (or the guest room). As we look at the story, we are sometimes hard on this “innkeeper” because we know the rest of the story. The innkeeper should have made room. He/She could have made room. How cruel to turn away a pregnant woman. We know Christ resided in Mary’s womb and changes our perspective.
Is the church “the inn” today?
This Sunday in our Bible Discovery class, we asked a question about our experiences with a church being “welcoming”. EVERYONE in the class had a negative experience of being “accepted” at a church. Stories of LGBT+ friends/family being shunned, hard handshakes without hearts, etc. Recently my parents left their church of 30+ years and went church shopping. In two of the churches they visited, they had very little interaction.
It was not the pastor, message, facilities or music driving them away, it was the people!
In one church, no one talked to them during the dedicated fellowship time. I wish I could say these stories were outliers, but sadly are not.
At a church, Krys and I served we had some friends (a married interracial couple) come with us on one Sunday. In a church of about 200, one person greeted them (outside of us) and had a conversation with them. Within the last two months at Otley Church, a family passed through a greeter, the welcome center and sat on the benches before anyone greeted them. I’ve seen young ladies come into a church and get immediately ushered over to the young boys trying to play “Cupid” opposed to simply receiving and welcoming them.
Today’s church is the inn. There is no room, because we do not make room, and we don’t seem to care.
Why is there no room at the inn (in the Church)?
We have not made room for anyone, despite having more space than ever. 85% of churches are either declining or plateauing in attendance. Yikes! We do not have any space because we do not make space. We do not take the time to invest in the lives of those new people around us. We sit in our holy huddles and chat about the latest TV Show, weather, corn prices, or gossip.
Functionally, we say there is no room for refusing to acknowledge their presence or treating them as though they have contracted a deadly disease. We give the sterile handshake and leave them be. It is the greeter assembly line, open door-shake hand, say hello, repeat.
Making room at the Inn... Be NICE
We must re-evaluate how we are receiving those who walk through our doors. We must be welcoming, but not overbearing. Some people are going to be gregarious while others may feel like a handshake is nearly breaking their personal bubble. Be sensitive to their needs.
Name- Ask their Name(s) and use it/them.
This is one of the most important questions to ask. Why? Because it shows our level of concern and caring. Using one’s name is personal, it is authentic, and it makes them feel more comfortable. Be genuine in asking these questions. This is not a time to play 20 questions (or Dutch Bingo) or a list of specific things you must have answered, let conversations flow freely. Once again, be sensitive towards their needs.
Invite- Invite them to tour the facilities with and sit with you during church.
One of the worst feelings ever is to walk into the church and not know what you are doing or where you are going. For those of us who have been coming to Otley Church for some time, we forget about it. Believe it or not, churches are different and vary between locations and denominations. When do you stand? When do you sit? Do you say “debts...and debtors” or “trespasses...trespasses against us.” What is this connection card? Do I have to put something into the offering plate? By extending an offer to have them sit with you, it provides a safety net and someone to answer any questions should they arise.
Children- Provide for the Children (if applicable)
Showing you care for their children is primary for parents. Parents will overlook a lot of “flaws” if their children are happy. If their child is very young, suggest the nursery and introduce the person who is taking care of the kids for the day. If they are able to go to worship, consider getting the child an activity bag next to the welcome center. If they would be going to Bible Discovery Hour, introduce them to Chris VK, their teacher, or some of the other kids in their class.
Exit- Encouraging send-off
Many times, churches put so much emphasis on the pre-service; they strike out the after service. Going back to my parent’s experience, both of the times where they were not greeted or talked to was after the service (and one of these churches it was not their first time attending!). After the service, be sure to escort them to the welcome center to get their gift bag. Go and get them some coffee and a cookie in the fellowship hall and sit with them, perhaps introducing them to others. If they have time, invite them to a discovery hour class. When everything is concluded say something like, Thank you for coming, we are glad you came and I hope to see you again soon. If it is not too awkward and you’ve “hit it off” consider inviting them out to lunch and continue to form a relationship.
We need to pray for (and expect) visitors to walk through our doors. We need to bring them in and welcome them in. We cannot (and should not) away no matter what they look like, what they talk like, their political affiliation, or who their friends are. Christ loved and received everyone and we should as well. After all, Our task is not to be the gatekeeper, but to bring people to the gate.
I’d love to interact with you. What are some of your experiences (Positive or negative) of being welcomed in church? What tip(s) might you have for greeting first-time guests?