We’ve decided to quit being a welcoming church. No kidding. We’re giving it up.
Like so many congregations, we’ve sunk an amazing amount of time and energy into becoming a welcoming church. We changed worship styles, trained greeters and ushers, wore name tags, brewed coffee, went to workshops on hospitality and put our friendliest people in the most prominent places on Sunday mornings.
My congregation realized that we had been misplacing our emphasis. Welcoming, from a missional perspective, is passive. It denotes waiting for visitors and guests to drop by.
Inviting is different. Inviting is active. Being an inviting church means that we leave the comfort of Sunday morning worship and seek out our neighbors. Being an inviting church starts with who God has called us to be as church and mandates joining God at work in the world.
Each congregation has a purpose within God’s mission. Each has particular gifts. No congregation is everything to everyone. But every congregation is something to someone. Who can know God through your worship style? Who can experience forgiveness and grace through your congregational community? Who needs the gifts you have to offer? Who can offer gifts you need?
Only when we are centered in this purpose can we become an inviting church. What does this look like in action? Something like this ….
While in conversation over the backyard fence, you invite a neighbor who is in pain after losing a loved one to your congregation’s grief support group.
When in the lunchroom chatting about the pressures of work, you invite a co-worker to your Bible study.
While waiting for your kids to get out of school, you talk with a friend about the struggles of parenting and invite their family to your congregation’s upcoming family picnic.
Being an inviting congregation involves sharing God’s specific gifts—made real in your congregation—with people outside the walls of the church building. Perhaps you already do this, or perhaps you need this push to step outside your comfort zone.
It can be terrifying to step outside comfort zones and establish a pattern of inviting friends to attend worship. What if he laughs at me or thinks less of me? What if she labels me as a narrow-minded, judgmental, hypocritical Bible-thumper? Or what if they actually come? Then what?
Being invitational seems too big, too audacious, too frightening, so we simply don’t do it. How about breaking it down into bite-size chunks that people actually can do?
Here are a few exercises my congregation has tried. See if something like this works for you.
Try using the phrase “my church” in a conversation with one person each week. It’s as simple as talking with just one person one time each week during the month.
Consider one word or phrase that describes your congregation well, then use that word to finish the phrase: “My church is _____.” Try doing this in conversation with one person per week during the month. When you start looking for opportunities to bring up your congregation in conversation, it’s amazing how often they arise.
Think about one thing your congregation does very well. Perhaps it’s children’s ministry, education, music, social activism or making the parking lot available for ride-sharing. Use that to finish the phrase: “My church is really good at _____.” Again, try this one time per week with one person in a conversation. By now you might be getting the hang of this.
Invite one person to check out something in which your congregation is involved. This should be done in appropriate conversations when an opening naturally presents itself—it should not feel forced or manipulated. By now, hopefully this feels more comfortable and you are more attuned to ways to bring church into your everyday conversations.
Invite someone you know to come to worship with you.
This seems to be the most frightening invitation for many to make. Remember, the basis of our identity as people of God is our new life given to us in Jesus Christ. When we quit pushing that on others and simply be that through caring relationships, we reveal the love of God. And who knows? The neighbor you invited to church might just reveal something about God that you didn’t know before.