We should treat visitors in our churches as Guests of God


        Cindy’s Mother talks with her on the phone at least three times a week since she moved to her new, county-seat town in Georgia, starting a new job with a debt collection company there.  Many of her co-workers are friendly, a few territorial and they all seem to share the love of pursuing Night Life games. 
            “Cindy, I am glad you seemed to be getting settled in your new apartment and job.  That’s wonderful.”
            “I know, Mom.  I think this is a nice community.”
            “Are you making lots of new friends?  Have you decided which church you may want to visit yet?  You know Cindy, that’s where you will meet some good people.”
            So Cindy prayed and began to visit local the websites of local churches.  It was September and the first church she looked at online was still advertising the Easter Cantata from six months earlier.  Their calendar was out of date, so she clicked on the next website. 
            At least this site was up to date with accurate information.  This church had a contemporary worship service at 9 a.m.  She printed the information and decided to visit Grace Community Church.
            When she arrived at 8:45 a.m., the parking lot was filling up.  She was looking for visitor parking, like her last church provided.  After three circles around, she could find no designated spaces. 
            She got her Kindle and walked toward the front doors of the large, box building with a cross on the front and lettering, “Grace Community Church.”  She wondered if there’s a Welcome Center inside for visitors?  Or maybe there are greeters?  Very strange.  She didn’t see either one. 
            She saw the coffee service tables with some pastries.  “Oh good, I can get some coffee and maybe meet someone who will welcome me.”  After two cups of Seattle’s Best Coffee, she was impressed with her beverage but still felt very much alone. 
            Cindy went into the worship center and found a seat about nine rows in with an open couple of chairs.  She stood there and looked around during the opening praise song set.  The songs were not familiar and she saw a large group surrounding her but no one had engaged her in conversation.  She had made a point to say “Hello” or “Good Morning” to more than 10 people but they seemed to be in route to somewhere else after giving her a smile or return “Hi.” 
            When the service was over, she considered her experience thus far:
 1)      “I can sure feel the eyes on me,” she thought. 
2)      Why don’t they have a greeter’s ministry?
3)      Why is there no welcome center with people to meet? 
4)      I am going back to the Internet and visit more churches.
             If we are still thinking of persons who walk in our church for the first or second time as visitors, perhaps we need to cue in.  They are not merely visitors, but in actuality they are, “The Guests of God” among us.  It is our “watch” and we are called by God to welcome the stranger and love others unconditionally with the love of Jesus Christ. 
            In too many churches, should someone visit several times, take all the initiative to introduce themselves and ask about how they can find a Sunday School class – someone may actually greet them and introduce themselves.  But be assured – this is not the way many people are wired!  When left to our own agendas, we don’t do outreach and hospitality well. Yet, we always are quick to say how friendly we are, which is true, to each other on the inside.   
            Churches that respond with ministry excellence to the Guests of God, who are led there by God to visit our fellowship, do it because:
 1)      They feel God’s love for the stranger who is seeking
2)      They realize the incredible importance of training their leaders in proven and effective ministry strategies that intentionally reach out to and relationally relate to the Guests of God
3)      They stopped saying silly things like, “We can’t follow up on our visitors because they only put their names on the attendance pads without any other contact information. That’s not our fault!” 
4)      They motivate their members and leaders to be spiritually passionate about working a plan that works in lovingly connecting the Guests of God to us in friendships
 If God leads persons in our community to visit our church as The Guests of God, what quality of reception will they receive not by accident or mere coincidence, but by DESIGN?  (If your church would like to explore training on this, give us a call) 
 Rev. Jim Hollis is the Founder and Executive Director of Proactive Ministries as well as a General Evangelist of the UMC since 1993.  He and his staff have worked with clergy and laity from more than 900 churches across 40 states.  They provide extensive, practical strategies in a variety of ministry areas.  You may reach Jim at www.proactive-ministries.org  or 770-803-9988.