Six Reasons Why Your Church Members May Not Be Friendly to Guests

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 recent widow looking for a new church. Being an introvert by nature it is very hard for me to make the first move among a church full of people who all know each other. This plus I am a bit depressed by my new role as a widow, I am still trying to adjust with the Lords help. I need someone at church to come along side me and make me feel accepted there. I’m not finding that unfortunately and am continuing to pray the Lord will provide that. I am getting to the point I may give up and just isolate and stay home on Sundays and read my Bible.

  • This is an older article but I agree with what others have said. I would like to share that the most important thing we can do if we are members or attendees of a church is welcome others when a new person comes in. It doesn’t matter if we don’t want to make small talk etc. No excuses! We may only get one chance to welcome someone to this congregation and share the love of Jesus. They WILL not come back if you don’t. I have had the experience of going to a new church and leaving feeling more discouraged because nobody talked to me. I believe pastors need to address church members about this. If you have felt this way before don’t give up going to find a church. God wants you in church to have fellowship and there ARE churches that have friendly people. I know that is true. Talk to the pastor or one of the leaders to let them know your feelings. Don’t give up. And for those of us attending church regularly, don’t let a new guest leave feeling discouraged! The most important thing you can do is welcome them , that day. It is our responsibility as believers! God bless.

  • I have been a member in my church for many years and still feel I do not belong. If I am away for a while ( due to a sick husband, or something else ) very seldom does any one call me , but I find out that other members are worried about ,and are contacted if they are sick , have a family problem , or death in their family. I would like to be treated the same as others in the church , without having to belong to a cliche. True love , and respect from church members not only on church day but all through the week also. To me this is being two faced , and I feel better not even attending church , then going to church , and knowing these things when I am in front of them . I do not want to deal with these issues , and I ask God to help me to over look these things , and concentrate on my own salvation , and how I should be acting . But it is hard . Any Thoughts

    • MEC, I’m sorry you haven’t been contacted when you have been sick. Have you mentioned this to anyone in your church , that you feel people haven’t reached out to you? Do you belong to a small group, or bible study? I would encourage you to do that and if people still don’t reach out then mention it to th bible study leader or pastor. Sometimes people don’t know what they are doing. I will be praying that you will feel encouraged, but make sure you let someone in the church know your feelings. You should know that people are praying and concerned for you. Having fellowship with a small bible study might be your answer. If not at the church you attend, maybe another one. Know that God doesn’t overlook you and he loves you.

  • Jill Schmitt says on

    Speaking only from my own experience here in California, some churches are just so big that I’m not sure the regular members may know who’s newer and who’s a regular when you have hundreds of people attending one of the three services on Sunday. I attended the same church for a few years with my sons and never met a single person. We sometimes hung out in the courtyard after service for 10-20 minutes and were never approached. I think a good solution for a larger church would be to set up an area where established members can meet and greet new comers. Have the pastor make an announcement at the end of his service saying something like this “If you’re new to our church we would like to welcome you. Go to ____ area after service so we can get to know you.”

  • I enjoyed this post; thanks for sharing your thoughts on this important topic. If the church members are not friendly toward visitors, I would have to wonder how genuine their love is for one another.

  • Deborah J Johnson says on

    This is a really tough and sensitive subject simply because people are so different. If you are like I am… I am very ourtgoing and never met a stranger… even so, shen we changed churches we had a very difficult time fitting it. I think this is the key…. find a Sunday School class where you have things in common with the members. It took us two years to find a class where we found people that had things in common with us. it’s like findinf a spouse…you don’t just marry the first person you meet . You look around and spend time with them until you find a good fit. for us, a good fit was people who like to have socials, but also like to minister to each other. While we were visiting , my mother died. Our class brought food and sent cards and flowers. I was blown away by their LOVE. Fitting in and feeling loved is SOOOOO much more than a handshake in the maiun service… You have to jump in there and get to know people. If after jumping in there you still feel left out… it’s time to move on and find one where you do.

  • Just this past Sunday our small country church had a guest who came as a result of seeing a Facebook ad. He then posted a very negative review on our Facebook page. His main criticism was our traditional style of music, but he also mentioned that only two people plus the minister greeted him and that he could tell others were avoiding eye contact so as not to interact with him. I’m not sure if this was true, though I am one who greeted him and we had about a minute and a half conversation so it wasn’t just “hello.” I also saw someone else invite him to our fellowship time for cake and refreshments which he politely declined before leaving. I guess my question is, what did we do wrong or what more could we have done? I am genuinely seeking thoughts from Thom and/or the readers on this forum, because I want to improve. I understand what Thom is saying about churches thinking they are friendly when they are not, and yet those new members who have come into our fellowship in the last ten years have all said our warm welcome was what attracted them most (the preaching is also given as a strong reason).

  • My church is very friendly. But then people never come back after visiting the first time or two. They even comment that the people are the friendliest they’ve ever seen. For some people this might be a put off. Maybe it scares them that we are so needy. Just a thought.

  • My son and I attended a country church in South Carolina for over 2 years. we left eventually because it was basically just an activity center for the ‘real members’. Those being the ones who’d grown up there. They hired a weak pastor who’s biggest concern was visiting the people that were sick. Wednesday prayer meeting averaged 5 and Sunday bible study was never much more than 4. The main thrust of the church was to entertain the elderly and the youth of the ‘established’ families. The pastor only used Ephesians and Philippians with seasonal forays into other books as required. Hardly ever opened to the Old Testament unless it was to Psalms. Those people were spiritually starved and biblically illiterate and satisfied with that. All new people were greeted but never accepted.

  • Hazel Knutt says on

    I lost my church through divorce. I’ve been searching for a new church for over a year.

    I attended one church for a while. Great teaching. However, I never seemed to be able to break into the fellowship. My last Sunday there was recognizing recent graduates. I was an older returning student, and quite proud to have recently graduated, so I stood to be recognized. Certainly that would break the ice? Nope. Later I went back through sermon notes and realized I had been attending for four months and no one had ever spoken to me. I never went back.

    Several months later I was looking again. I found another church with great teaching. This city is two parts–the main town and the other side of the river. My first visit someone asked what part of town I lived, and I replied the other side of the river. Oh. After that, no one spoke to me. They had their little cliques that would look over at me with a disapproving glance. I didn’t go back.

    This past week I attended a church that meets in a converted barn. During the meet&greet, the woman in front of me asked me the “getting to know you” type of questions until the pastor started his message. After service, the woman next to me also took time to get to know me. Even though worship is too loud and the sermon was a bit light, I most certainly will be back. I felt welcomed.

  • Good article. Thank you.

  • Of course we all want our churches to be friendly, but this doesn’t come naturally to some of us. I teach a Sunday school class, so in that ten minutes beforehand when people are showing up, I’m not thinking about all the stuff I have to do make people think I’m friendly, I’m thinking about the lesson and primarily on the introduction. As someone else mentioned, the reality is that we are people. Then after class, my focus changes to what I need to do to sing in the choir. It’s easy to talk about churches needing to be friendlier, but friendliness can’t be isolated from the other things churches do.