I recently noticed that the employees at my local Home Depot had mysteriously become much more helpful. “How are you this morning, sir? Can I help you find something?” The first couple of times, I did a double-take. Is this Home Depot? I later discovered it had something to do with a new CEO who was attempting to overhaul the HD image. Well, in my neck of the woods, it’s succeeded.
When it comes to sales, being friendly is essential. When it comes to churches, I’m not so sure.
There’s lots of reasons people do not attend certain churches — style, doctrine, demographics, location, etc. Unfriendliness is one of those reasons. As a pastor, I learned that visitors often judged my church based on the “friendliness factor.” Were members courteous? Were they helpful? Did they recognize visitors? Did members introduce themselves to newcomers and make an attempt to “connect” with them? These were some of the criteria “church shoppers” looked for.
Most churches respond by posting Greeters at the entrance and asking folks, during the service, to take a few minutes to hug, high five, or mingle with the people around them. Cool. But unlike a business, a pastor cannot demand that his members be friendly. And really, what kind of friendliness is coerced? Besides, we shouldn’t base our entire perception of a church upon the few people we happen to come in contact with. Churches are made up of lots of different people in varying degrees of maturity. Nevertheless, if a visitor sits between two bores, well, there’s a good chance that church will get branded as “unfriendly,” and they won’t be coming back.
I’m thinking about this because, after about 8 years, we have started attending a new church. I’ve commented to my wife, several times, how “unfriendly” this church is. I’m saying it semi-sarcastically, partly because of all the times I heard it as a pastor, and partly because it’s true. You see, no one has really gone out of their way to befriend me and Lisa. Does it bother me? Nope.
So am I suggesting friendliness isn’t important? Not at all. I make a habit of being friendly at least once a week. Kidding.
Churches are supposed to cultivate and demonstrate the love of Christ; to preach the Gospel and make disciples. Jesus did not tell us to “Go ye into all the world and make friendly people.” However, if we are doing what Jesus wants, it stands to reason that we will be friendly and make friends. So at some point, if a church is doing what it should, its members will be moving up the scale of “friendly.”
But churches are strange animals — an amalgam of young and old, well-to-do and down-and-out, saved, unsaved, and totally confused. On any given Sunday in any given church, you will find the talkative, the self-centered, the moody, the nit-picky, the wounded, the envious and the insecure. I mean, there’s no telling what kind of person may land next to you. All that to say, if my neighbor’s unfriendly, I don’t take it personal. Cuz I’m that way sometimes too.
It’s one thing to leave a church because they preach false doctrine. It’s another to leave a church because they’ve got a few snobs.
Maybe it’s wrong, but when I hear people say they don’t attend a certain church because it’s “unfriendly,” I can’t help but see it as an excuse. It’s an excuse to NOT get involved, to NOT open up, to NOT make yourself vulnerable. It’s an excuse to NOT make friends. I mean, if all you’re after is friendly people, then go to Home Depot. But if you want humans, then go to church.
So, yeah, I attend an “unfriendly church.” However, it’s only as unfriendly as I let it be…