We had a good friend over to dinner last night. It had been a long time since we’d seen her last so we were catching up. She told us of a new church she was going to that she really likes. She’s been going there for a while now, and has gotten involved as a volunteer there. She started going to a small group in hopes of making some friends there. Then she said something that struck me as strange: she has yet to make a friend at this church.
We told her another friend of ours goes to this same church, and she said, “Oh, good! I’d like to meet her because then I’ll have a friend there!”
When Heather and I moved back from Spain this was one of the things we found disturbing about churches in the States: how unwelcoming they were!
In cases where folks showed interest in us, it seemed they only did so to the extent that we could plug into their programs. One church “evangelized” me, without even bothering to get to know us. In other instances, others seemed to view us as an imposition. They had been part of that church for umpteen years already, so who were we to think we could just come in and make ourselves at home? (I must say, however, that we are grateful for a small group of folks we've met who have truly been open, welcoming and encouraging: you know who you are!)
That said, the experience of unfriendliness seems to be an epidemic among American churches. You wouldn't believe the stories! In one instance, another friend was sharing a prayer request with a church’s small group only to have it backfire. He had something on his heart, something he was passionate about and he asked the group if they could simply lift up these desires in prayer. Sounds simple, right? Well…he got an earful that night! They advised him how his passion was misguided and riddled him with suggestions. In fact, they smiled and chuckled at his naiveté. “What an idealist!”
(Whatever happened to simply saying: “I’d be happy to pray about that for you. Let’s pray.”)
Another friend I know started going to a small church almost two years ago, yet well over half the old-timers had still not introduced themselves to offer their hand in welcome. On the contrary, initial small group interactions with some of these folks proved hurtful as unkind comments were made with neither hesitation nor compunction—by a man who works for a so-called Christian organization!
It simply astounds me how incredibly intelligent, highly educated people can be such mirthless jerks.
And, what’s more troubling is: there seems to be no self-awareness about this. Poll the long-standing members of any church and they will tell you, “I go to this church because it’s so friendly and welcoming.” Of course, the key stakeholders are going to say that, but perhaps the old-timers shouldn’t be allowed to answer that question on the survey because, let’s face it…you can’t see your own butt.
Understand that I am a pastor by calling, so what I am going to say right now I say with all gravity: if this is what Christianity is all about, I don’t want to have anything to do with it. (Fortunately, I’m convinced this is not what Christianity should look like so I refuse to give up on the Bride of Christ).
The fruit of the Spirit is kindness. We are admonished to practice hospitality with one another. Christians of all people should be the first to see the image of God in every human being and treat every person we meet with gentleness and respect.
Instead, we have become territorial and thoughtless, callous and smug. Some Christians insist they are generous—they tithe, after all—yet, relationally, they are shriveled misers.
To her credit, my friend is an incredibly patient friend-maker. She has persisted in attending this church and has gotten involved in different things in hopes of making a connection. She is intelligent and loving, she is joyful and truly generous. She serves “the least of these” with gladness; indeed, it is her gift. Yet, for all her effort, her brothers and sisters in Christ right next to her every Sunday overlook her offers of friendship.
Shame on you, church! You can be better than that. In fact, I would assert that if we don’t do better than that, we are no church of Christ’s. Grow up, already.