Welcome or Not?




One of the things I knew I would miss when we moved from Statesboro was my friends I ate breakfast with each morning, first at Snooky’s and then R.J.’s.  Most of the men didn’t attend FBC, but they became wonderful friends and actually,  brothers.  I still miss them and go back every chance I get.

One of the first things I did when I moved near Cleveland, Georgia was to  begin looking for a  group of men to drink coffee with.  (Every little town has a bunch of “old men” who drink coffee every morning and solve the world’s problems. I used to make fun of the men at the “round table, ” but now I “are one.”)

My daughter suggested a particular popular restaurant and so I eagerly walked in and yep, there they were. I was looking forward to meeting met some new folks in my new town.   Well, I knew no one, but I did get my coffee and sat at a near by table. I smiled and said hello, but wasn’t there five minutes until one of the old men began bumping my chair and eventually about knocked me off my perch and I splashed coffee on my khakis.   In other words, “you aren’t welcome  here, at least not welcome to sit near us. This is our table, our restaurant.  You can come, eat, and sit over there, but we would actually prefer you use the drive-through.”

Of course, they didn’t say that, but that is what it seemed they were saying. I didn’t meet the owner, but the regular customers made their stand.   I’m quite certain these are good folks, but were simply so focused on each other there was no room for another.   Bill, you are too sensitive, grow up.  Yes, maybe I am, but I left asking myself, “I didn’t want to eat  breakfast  here anyway. Did I make the right decision to come to the mountains?”    I moved on and found a group of men who welcomed a “new old man” and we have developed some great friendships.

Some years before all of this, on a very rare occasion, probably the only time in our ministry, Dorothy and I were traveling from Dallas through a large southern city on a Sunday morning. Of course, we were looking for a place to worship.  We checked our GPS and found several near the interstate.  We went to the first one, all do doors were closed, no one around though there were cars in the lot.  No sign as to where to enter, not even “welcome mat.”  We moved on.  We went to several and even drove deep into the city, but it was the same scenario.  We even went by a contemporary AG church figuring they would be bouncing a round looking for guests, still nothing that said, we welcome  you.

Think about it, we deliberately were SEEKING to find a place to worship with believers, but can you imagine what an “outsider”  thinks as he or she drive by those CLOSED UP CHURCHES?  Church after church with closed doors,  no  one stirring outside looking to welcome folks, no directional signs.  We weren’t looking for a “circus,” but we did want to find a warming, welcoming body of believers with which to share Sunday morning worship.

We finally just stopped and went in a church as the folks were gathering.  NOT ONE person said hello as we stood looking in the worship center.  Finally, an usher asked if we would like a seat and we sat near the back.  (And one of them told us “don’t sit here, that’s my seat,” we would have been out the door.

The worship time was a blessing as the crowd sang and God’s man preached. It was really a good experience as we had a parenthesis in our journey home. Since most were in coats and ties and I was in my often worn GSU windbreaker, we stood out and as the service ended folks began visiting with us.  I told no one I was a minister, just a guest passing through.  These were great folks, but just weren’t preparing for guests.

I really hadn’t thought about this for a while, however, the restaurant at home, where the guys ate in every morning, closed and we had to find a new “home.”  We ended up in the very restaurant that had made me feel very unwelcome.  The food is actually very good I think it will work out, but every time I walk in the door, I remember the guy who “didn’t want me sitting in or even near his “pew.”

I know I’m a music man and am supposed to lead the choir, the orchestra, and keep the crowd singing, and keep my mouth shut,  but there is little that we on the platform can do to make up for an unwelcoming church family.  I’m sure most churches truly do want to grow and meet new folks, but it is so easy to be friendly to friends and quickly ignore  a guest and he leaves  saying, “I really didn’t want to go to church today anyway.”

I have been blessed in that most of the churches I have served over the years  have been eager to welcome new folks, however, it must be a deliberate action on the part of the pastor, staff, AND church family.  Greeters don’t need to be dressed in matching blazers or like hotel doormen, but they do need to be friendly, focused on  the people driving by and coming in. (Years ago I served a church where the greeter would all gather under the big oak for a smoke as people came in.  They were out there, but missed the point.)
Putting my “music man hat” back on, if the greeters “get it” and guestss make it in the door, the choir had better be focused on the crowd as well, being that conduit of God’s love and grace to saint and sinner alike.

It is exciting read about and see churches that are taking deliberate action.  FBC Stateboro and Level Grove are constantly seeking fresh ways to let outsiders know they are welcome inside.  Of course, that is done by going out and “bringing them” in.  Closed doors and close people on Sunday mornings are a huge turn-off to the timid seeker.  Signage is important, but nothing replaces a godly man or woman with a confident warm smile reaching out, “Glad you’re here.”


By the way, the  biscuits are great at…..


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