The man was a newcomer in town. On his first morning he went into the local restaurant for breakfast. Around a large round table was a group of locals eating breakfast, drinking coffee, and sharing stories and laughs. He could tell he didn’t belong in that circle, so he quietly found a booth where he would eat alone. If one in that circle had gone over to him, introduced himself, and invited him to join the group, he might have accepted or politely declined, but he would have been impressed with the friendliness of the town into which he had moved and might have been inclined to return to the restaurant to speak again to the man who had befriended him.
On the Lord’s Day, he went to worship with the church. As he walked in he noticed several groups standing together, enjoying conversation. He could tell they were close friends who had known each other a long time. He was hesitant to join any of the groups, so he quietly went to seek out a place where he could worship. When he came to the first pew, however, it was filled with notebooks and Bibles, so he knew that seat was not for him. He went on to the next, but there was a line of footstools, and so it went until he found a place in the middle of a pew that seemed not to be “reserved.” There were a few polite “hellos,” but his reception was hardly better than it had been at the local restaurant. He “just didn’t seem to belong.”
Does the Bible not speak of some who “just didn’t belong”? “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or, ‘Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4). The poor man would know “he didn’t belong in that group.” But one does not have to be poor to feel that a group is not warmly receiving him.
Efforts to Correct the Problem
Some churches appoint “greeters” who stand at the door to welcome visitors. This no doubt is helpful. The visitor can recognize, however, that the “greeter,” no matter how warm and friendly he may be, is fulfilling a role given to him. Consequently his good work cannot substitute for spontaneous warmth, friendliness, and concern on the part of the congregation as a whole.
Others deliberately “dress down” so that a visitor who comes in casual clothes will not feel uncomfortable. We appreciate the thought and are very respectful of brethren who are doing this, but we wonder about the effectiveness of this practice. After all, there are people who have been taught from childhood that when they go to worship, they should wear their “Sunday best,” and when they find the whole group dressed in jeans, they might wonder about their disregard for the occasion. We would also ask:
If a man in a suit showed genuine warmth to a visitor in jeans, would his warmth not communicate that he doesn’t judge others by the clothes they wear?
The Answer: Genuine Concern for Others
An incident that occurred several years ago provides the best answer. A young lady, a member of a denomination, had married a Christian. Having promised to attend services with him, she found a seat and immediately said, “I wonder whose seat we have.” “You don’t have anyone’s seat,” the lady seated in front of her said, “You are welcome here and you can sit anywhere you like.” “My heart just melted,” the young lady told me later. Is it surprising that a few months later she was baptized? Her husband now serves as a deacon.
Concern for others! Counting others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3-4)! Leaving our little group of friends to welcome a visitor! Even going up to a visitor whom we see in the parking area, introducing ourselves, welcoming him, and introducing him to others! Giving up our “end of the pew” seat so the visitor doesn’t have to crawl over us. This is the answer.
By the way, our newcomer learned of another faithful church in town and went to worship with them the next Sunday. He was welcomed warmly and he soon asked to be received in the group. And the first church wonders why the church across town is growing while they seem to be stagnant?
Article by Bill Hall