Have you ever been to a party where you felt out of place? Picture the kingdom of heaven, where the least expected invitees are all welcome!
I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty friendly person, and I frequently tried to find new faces to say hello to on Sunday mornings, but having the tables flipped and walking into new places as a single-again adult has been a humbling learning experience. I can’t think of very many situations that feel more intimidating than walking into an unfamiliar church alone. If you have kids, you can kind of hide behind them as you figure out where they need to go, but once you’ve dropped them off to the nursery, kids’ classes, etc., you are on your own.
In Acts 2, we read about how rapidly the early church grew. Verse 47 says that “the Lord added to their number daily” (NIV), and other verses mention the thousands of individuals who flocked to the new congregations. I wonder sometimes about the demographics of those newcomers, but we aren’t given much detail other than knowing that the sheer number of new believers was skyrocketing.
I think Crossroads, in particular, does a fantastic job of making people feel at home, but we can all get stuck in a rut sometimes, so maybe it will help to be reminded of how much courage it takes to walk into a new place alone. I’ve gone to church my whole life, and I’ve been a leader in several capacities, but still, walking through the lobby and finding a seat in a new church made me feel very self-conscious and awkward.
That isn’t to say that people were unwelcoming; on the contrary, several people introduced themselves and struck up a friendly conversation. But when it came to finding my seat and participating in church, I still felt alone. Worse yet, I felt like I stuck out. I avoided the temptation to fiddle with my phone or re-read the bulletin a dozen times to look like I was busy. I tried making eye contact and saying hi to people, but it wasn’t easy. With these things in mind, I would like to offer some practical suggestions to make intimidated visitors feel welcome.
First, don’t stop doing what you already do so well! Keep greeting people; introduce yourself; get to know them. Better yet, invite them to come sit with you. I would have really liked for someone to ask me to sit with them, just so I didn’t go through the worship service alone. (Sure, there’s a crowd, but I think most of you understand what it feels like to feel alone in a crowd.) Don’t stop there. Invite them to your Life group (even if you aren’t the leader!). Take it upon yourself to introduce them to the pastor, etc. Remember the story of the early church in Acts 2: they focused not only on the gospel message, but also on fellowship and nurturing new members.