Rolling out the welcome mat, and meaning it
I was driving home from a church gathering recently when I called to check on a friend.
“I am over at my brother’s house having a cup of coffee with his family,” she said.
“I’ll be right over,” I replied.
I didn’t ask permission to come over. It wasn’t necessary. How I am treated in that home lets me know I am a welcome guest.
Dropping in on friends and neighbors used to be a common occurrence. Unfortunately, it is now more the exception than the rule. Most of us have a mat at the front door emblazoned with the one-word invitation: “Welcome.” But do we mean it and do our neighbors believe it? Or has the message on the welcome mat become as disingenuous as when we walk past someone in the grocery store and ask, “How are you?”
How many friends or neighbors have come to your front door recently without calling first? When is the last time a neighbor knocked on your door for no other reason than to say hello or to visit? How many people, other than immediate family, are you comfortable going to visit without checking first to see if it is OK?
It wasn’t always so. Just a generation ago, in many communities across the country, neighbors visited with each other as a matter of habit, moving freely from house to house. It was not considered rude to drop by. In fact, it would have been unusual to call beforehand. The phone was a device used to communicate with people who lived somewhere else. A front porch, or kitchen table, was all you needed to communicate with a neighbor.
Of course, making someone feel “welcome” is more a matter of what is in the heart than on a doormat. It is easier to tell people they are welcome than honestly make them feel that way.
What about our churches? Do we truly make people feel “welcome” or is that something we just talk about amongst ourselves or proclaim on a street sign?
When I attended the conference’s Licensing School last year, one of the participants mentioned how he and his wife had recently visited a small church not far from their home in North Georgia.
“After we went in and sat down, everyone began staring at us,” he said. ”It was strange. They did not look pleased. We soon realized we were sitting in someone’s seat.”
Sadly, others in our week-long class related similar incidents. No doubt, if you asked the members of those not-so-welcoming congregations, they would tell you, “We are a friendly church.” Doesn’t everyone believe they attend a friendly church?
Reality does not always line up cleanly with our words. We are quick to put out a welcome mat but are we willing to put that word into action?
I didn’t need to be told I was welcome to drop by a friend’s house because I know how I am treated when I show up at the door. Their actions speak far louder than their words ever could.
Are we willing to put our words into action and warmly welcome everyone who shows up at our church doors? Are we willing to give up our seats?
If you have developed a particularly effective model in becoming a “welcoming church,” we’d like to hear your story. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
with some details. We will share it in a future edition of the North Georgia Advocate.