It’s one of the biggest lies in churches.
Of the thousands of on-site and virtual consultations I have done, it is the most common sentence I hear from church members:
“We are the friendliest church in town!”
With rare exceptions, it’s just not true.
We surveyed guests who visited the church and found a dramatically different perception. Their most common comment is:
“The people at that church aren’t very friendly.”
So how do so many church members have such a disconnect with reality? I see six common reasons:
- The holy huddle syndrome. Church members naturally gravitate to people they know when they go to a worship service. They already have relational connections. The members thus perceive they are friendly because they are friendly to each other. Unfortunately, guests are not included.
- The stand-and-greet satisfier. Many churches have a time set aside in the worship service for people to greet one another. I have written before about the dreaded stand-and-greet time. For most church members, those three to four minutes of shaking hands and speaking to someone constitute friendliness. To guests, it often seems contrived and inconsistent with what they see beyond the “official” welcome time.
- The I-don’t-live-here reality. Church members know the facilities of their churches. They know where to park. They don’t need good signage. They know where to sit. Guests are, well, guests. They often come to the worship services frustrated because of poor signage. One guest tried to open three doors before she found the right one. And she was a single mom with three kids in tow. For many guests, they form a quick opinion that the church is for insiders only.
- The insider language mystery. Often those who preach or make announcements speak in words and acronyms that only the members understand. It seems to be an insider code without any consideration to those who are making their first visit. The guest feels like he or she is on the outside looking in.
- The unhappy kid/unhappy parent problem. Regardless of the adults’ experience at church, if their children do not have a good experience, it will be clearly reflected in the parents’ attitudes. Some churches go out of their way to make the children safe, secure, and happy. That’s good. Some don’t. That’s bad.
- The 6 + 1 dilemma. Most Christians are not prayerfully and intentionally trying to reach non-Christians through word and deed. How can we expect those members who don’t have a friendly attitude toward the outsider six days a week to change it dramatically for one day a week? The truly friendly people I see in churches are showing love, concern, compassion, and friendliness toward others the other six days of the week.
Guest friendliness is important. Indeed, it can make an eternal difference in the guests’ lives. But guest friendliness is not natural in most churches. And, unfortunately, most church members do not even realize they aren’t friendly to guests.
It’s a problem. The first step is realizing how unfriendly your church may really seem to guests.
Let me hear from you.
Posted on September 19, 2016
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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I am a member of a small church and am deaf.
The church besides the pastor of course dont greet me in the street ans avoid me like the plaque.
I dont feel like attending anymore although the bible say that we must go to church.
Thank you for your perspective! I have recently left a church that I attended for 10 years. I found out that it became hard to connect with people. I was deeply disappointed that my church didn’t feel like a place where I could be vulnerable when I am going through difficulties in life. You reminded me that my current situation isn’t unique and that the church has its shortcomings in connecting deeply with people. While I am still grieving the disappointment I feel, the logical reasons really help me depersonalize the pain I am going through. Thank you and blessings to you.
Hi Thom great insight about Churches, the 6 reasons a church is unfriendly. Pretty spot on! Discrimination and favoritism are a bit different but very much a part of it. My wife and me and daughter have tried many churches over some time, trying to find a home church. We have signed up to volunteer, but no call backs, we are very nice people, but just can’t seem to fit. We found a Christian church and we are about a year in and I can’t find it in my heart to go any longer. I feel something is wrong in my soul about the Pastor, he greats many with a hand shack and a few words I notice but can’t even shack my hand or address our family he will walk behind us and maybe give a pat on my back. But really no words. Like we are sick or stink! I feel very unwanted and will no longer go. I know God has given me discernment and I feel he has a strong dislike towards me. Not much eye contact at all. I guess I don’t me his level.
WHEN I ASKED WHY ISNT MY CHURCH FRIENDLY I OBVIOUSLY ASKED ABOUT MY CHURCH, SO THAT MEANS I AM NOT A VISITOR, BUT YOUR ANSWER AUTOMATICALLY RELATES TO VISITORS,
We have been to two churches looking for leadership that teaches this. Haven’t found it yet. My wife went to Women’s Bible study (touted as “the place to make friends and fellowship together”). Nobody even asked her name or made any effort to include her. Were we not already followers of Christ this would have been devastating. Our current church makes an attempt with greeters, but they’re cliquey and half-hearted. We would never have met the pastor if we hadn’t made the effort ourselves. The pastors don’t mingle and seem aloof when you talk to them. Wolves could sneak into these congregations, because the shepherds aren’t paying attention to their flocks.
Thank you for your post, this is so true. We are in ministry and have been in some churches that DO NOT want children in their church. What have you found to be the reason for this?
My impression is that they don’t know how to relate to outsiders or young people in general, and they don’t want to invest their time in youth.
I find your discussions very helpful. The reason I’m here is because I’m a faithful parishioner and involved in my church. However, I’ve been out of church for two months and not even one person, has reached out to check on me and my kids. It’s a small congregation of less than 60. They seem to be just geared towards the families that are there (they’re all related to each other). I am really disheartened. I’m not one to just up and leave a ministry. I don’t know if this is God showing me I need to go elsewhere or if I’m just being petty. The church is 20 miles one way, so I drive 80 miles every Sunday. Thank you for any wisdom you can give.