Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Is Your Church a Friendly Church?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on September 17, 2008 at 5:07 pm

A few months ago weather delays forced me to miss a flight connection and thus to spend an unscheduled weekend at a hotel near the airport of a major city in a foreign country. I asked the concierge at my hotel if there were any churches within walking distance, and he said that there weren’t and that I would have to return to the airport for an ecumenical service. Of course there was no way that I was going to do that. But I also suspected that he was incorrect. I had noticed a sign at an intersection, indicating that a church was located down a side road. On Saturday evening I went walking to look for the church, found it, made note of the time of worship the next day, and planned my schedule in order to attend. From all appearances, it was an evangelical church, and I looked forward with real anticipation to attending the next day. When one is stranded in a hotel at an airport over the Lord’s Day, the prospect of worshiping God is very pleasant.

On Sunday morning I made my way over to the church and entered the sanctuary about 10 minutes prior to the beginning of worship. It was a small older building with about 15 people present at the moment. To my surprise, no one greeted me. Several people looked over at me from a distance, but no one made an effort to speak with me. In fact, in all the time I was there, not one person, not even the minister, sought to initiate a conversation with me. The whole congregation that morning totaled about 30 people, so I was not missed in a swarm of attendees. I was quite conspicuous, and would have thought that in such a small assembly (which was, by the way, evangelical), significant attempts would have been made to meet and greet this stranger in their midst.

As I walked back to my hotel, I reflected on this experience, and a conversation I had a few years ago came to my mind. On that occasion, I was preaching at a Reformed Baptist church here in the USA. The pastor asked me an interesting question, something like this: “In your travels, do you find Reformed Baptist churches to be friendly and welcoming?” As we talked, he told me that on several of his trips (I think for vacation) he had visited other Reformed Baptist churches and found them to be less than outgoing and friendly. His experience was a sad commentary on the state of the churches he had visited.

My visit to the church near the hotel, and the memory of this conversation have made me think deeply about this. There really is no excuse for churches to be cold and unfriendly. We need to teach our people to greet guests warmly, to engage them in conversations and to find ways to welcome them. And those of us who are elders need to lead the way.

Is your church a friendly church? When the stranger who is stranded at the airport comes into your assembly and then walks back to his hotel, what does he think of your congregation?

James M. Renihan, Dean 
The Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies
http://www.reformedbaptistinstitute.org/

 

  1. Jim,

    Thanks for the healthy reminder. This is an area we’re trying to improve. And I do agree that we who are elders need to lead the way.

  2. AMEN and AMEN!

    Hospitality is intensely theological!

  3. […] your church a friendly church Great blog: Hospitality is intensely theological, is it not? Is Your Church a Friendly Church? Reformed Baptist Fellowship __________________ Pergamum "If a commission by an earthly king is considered a honor, how […]

  4. “Is my church a friendly church?”

    I am hoping that Dr. Renihan will, after visiting my church someday, give me his answer.

  5. I heartily agree.

  6. I too have found this all too common. I am not sure the cause or is there a lack of “friendliness” even among the congregants themselves. Seriousness and friendliness do not need to be mutually exclusive except I fear many believe they do.

  7. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/18/AR2008091801703.html?nav=rss_print/asection

    The above is an interesting article. And I hope that elders will lead the way since it is one of the qualifications of an elder, and should have been a disqualification if it was not evident in them in the first place. And perhaps that is a problem. How are elders being qualified?

    Another issue is that although it is a general admonition to all believers, not all are equally so gifted. Like other attributes of believers, the cookie-cutter mentality of instruction that laddles quilt on those who are not “like us” has actually been the bane of genuine love. We are no different in diversity from the culture around us, personality speaking, and to exclude diversity by demands of universality of performance does far more harm than good. Is it wise to assume the existence of what may not be?

    The article above is interesting because the bulk of mega-churches fall far short of any semblence of orthodoxy, yet their appearance is friendly. The presumption can be made that they are not filled with the regenerate, as most studies also reveal. At least in understanding the orthodox faith, they do not measure up. Yet they excel in friendliness. What could be the reason for that?

    Then too we have this factor, that because of the decline of evangelicalism in the West, there is a great distrust. It should not be overlooked that when a stranger comes in, that the response of wariness may appear as unfriendliness, when in reality it is premised in wise caution. With as many pseudo-Christians and pseudo-seekers as there are, the suspicion of the unknown is understandable.

    When I look around there is more to be suspicious of than there is to have confidence in and even those coming from seminaries are not to be rated as trustworthy. One only needs to look at the numbers of men who dump out of ministry to understand the caution. If they, in their confessed calling, cannot be trusted to be faithful, then how much less the stranger who comes in? And why should the congregant emulate what is phony? They have been burned and the resolution is more often than not because those who they did not know well ripped them off.

    Listen, it doesn’t have much to do with people not being friendly. My guess is that if you follow many who attend small churches home, you will find them friendly enough. But in a world where we can no longer trust products that we buy, politicians to tell the truth, clergy who are scandal ridden, banks that cannot be trusted to secure our savings; in a world where the security of persons and things has become so tenuous, the cultural effect is for people to be less and less secure and therefore less and less outgoing, and friendly, especially in smaller groups.

    As the article says, in the mega church, a person can get lost among small groups where there are friends. That doesn’t make them any more open. What it means is that among a greater number of people there is greater diversity and therefore, more likely to be a group and a people with which the vistor can associate. Likewise, there is less lack of outgoingness simply due to economy of scale. In a church of a hundred there might be only one who is of that friendly, extroverted type, in a thousand member church there could be many times that number. And it appears, but is not necessarily the case, that the mega-church is more out-going and friendly.

    I would revisit what it is that the leadership should be doing, what their attributes should be as leaders and let them teach what Scripture says. Scripture will draw those attributes out in others if they are there. But if it is merely a program to increase appearances, what you will find is those who can easily adopt roles, that may not be true to their character, dividing from those who do not have such gifts.

    We can identify a myriad of problems that need to be fixed and institute programs and studies to address them, or we can teach Scripture, and being faithful to the full teaching, we will find that things such as hospitality are enumerated repeatedly. And, the word will do its work. But, also we will find all the other aspects of diversities of personalities, failings, faults and insecurities, of which Scripture also teaches us to bear with the weaker brother.

    Perhaps the problem was not with the congregants but the visitor. We can expect the stranger not to necessarily be outgoing, being that he is in a foreign culture, but a visiting brother? If he recognized the reluctance to be hospitable, but has that gift himself, then it is his responsibility to bear with and to give to those who have not. In other words, the mature brother having perfected hospitality in his own person should have been the one to be outgoing.

    “There really is no excuse for churches to be cold and unfriendly. We need to teach our people to greet guests warmly, to engage them in conversations and to find ways to welcome them. And those of us who are elders need to lead the way.”

    No, there is not. But, if the elders are not leading the way, how is it they are elders? Can you gaurantee that there are people in the congregation enabled to do what you expect of them? I don’t care if there are a thousand, the fact is that the elders may be the only ones with such gifts. To have classes or programs to reap fruit where there is no seed, will result in frustration and embitterment between the parties concerned. My point is, if it is the requirement of a pastor/elder to be hospitible, then the “no excuse” rests soley upon them. The layman has no requirement to hold their office. Yes, Scripture does teach that all believers should grow in and eventually exhibit such traits, but they may not, and to force them through programs which teach them to be what they are not seems contrary to reality of Reformed teaching. Do we really want to work up in people a zeal from the flesh? To the contrary, elders are required and have those attributes if indeed they are qualified elders. The failing then is not necessarily because of a “cold” congregation. There are many intevening reasons (not excuses) why when confronted with a stranger or a visiting brother, that the layman may not respond hospitably. The layman by definition is not the matured leader; the instruction of Scripture presumes a deficit in the spiritual maturity of the sheep and the children should not be expected to do what the parent by position, calling, gifting and acuity should.

  8. James,

    I think one thing to keep in mind is to know the context of the church. I have a friend in Fresno, CA where every Sunday, the Singles complain that the church is not friendly enough and that is the reason why many Singles and college students do not come to their church. Yet, I’ve worshiped at my friend’s church on several Sundays and have found their church to be quite friendly. In contrast, one can visit a major fast-growing mega-church in San Francisco with predominantly 20-30-something as the demographics and not be greeted by anyone. The major difference is that my friend’s church is in a suburban setting, whereas the other church is in a major hustle/bustle people-moving-100-mph metropolitan city. The culture and ethos of the settings differ.

    Personally, I believe that godliness and Christ-likeness demands that both sides, the church and the visitor, should extend love and friendliness. Conversely, I think both sides are failing in godly love when the church family fails to greet the visitor, but also when the visitor sits or stands there expecting some kind of attention.

    I’ve worshipped in many of the renown pastor’s churches in the U.S. (e.g. John MacArthur’s church, Alistair Begg’s church, Mark Dever’s church, Tim Keller’s church, etc.), and in all of those churches, not a single greeting. I had to initiate the inquiry of asking at the info booth or hail someone in the foyer of where I could get a copy of the worship bulletin and the guest/visitor packet. And they’re kind and pleasant enought to then provide the answer.

  9. I visited a Reformed Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, LA. They were very friendly. I have no car so they fetch me from the apartment and send me back home also. The pastor treated me with dinner at their home. This is amazing considering that I am not an American but an Asian.

  10. “This worship service should be the highlight of you week” Declared the Rev…. one Sunday morning.I agreed, but if going to sit in a pew by yourself to be ignored as an elders wife busies herself talking to those in front and those behind, before the service, for no-one to speak at the end except a dull “Good morning” from the good Rev on the way out the door, if that’s the highlight of the week then life’s pretty dull!!Neddless to say after attending there for 6 months I didn’t go back.

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