This is not intended to be a complaint but a learning opportunity for members of our church (and maybe other churches). I appreciate the work of the organization that invited us to a Pastor’s Appreciation Banquet and wish the very best for them. I have many friends who are a part of this particular organization and I don’t mean to offend anyone. They are one group of a few that have these much appreciated annual events.
Several weeks ago I was invited to a Pastor’s Appreciation Banquet sponsored by an organization that has done a lot of good spreading the Gospel throughout the world. It’s a annual banquet that I have been invited to before but this is the first time I said Yes! I reserved 3 spots and brought with me my wife Kristina and a young man who is feeling God tug at his heart. The information said the banquet was being held at church that is at the intersection of two streets in a town a few miles away and in red bold letters it said “THE DRESS CODE WILL BE CASUAL.” The banquet was scheduled from 6:30 – 8:30.
I came from church after a busy day dressed in a polo shirt and nice shorts – casual wear on a hot summer day that had begun with a 6:30 men’s breakfast. I did not have time to go home and freshen up. If you know me you expect me to wear shorts on hot summer days. My wife and our friend had on casual shirts and blue jeans. Appropriate for a casual event, don’t you think?
When we arrived in the town we were immediately confused. One street does not intersect with the other – one street changes names and is called the other. Locals may know this but we didn’t and the map was unclear – so we lost about 5 – 10 minutes finding the church. When we spotted the church there were no signs indicating where pastors like me that were coming from two counties for a special event should park or enter the building. We parked the car near what appeared to be a main entrance but it was locked. There were no signs telling us where to go so we walked around three sides of this large beautiful facility before we found an open door – still no signs, and we lost another 5 minutes or so. We located the room inside the building where we thought the meeting in our honor was being held. There were no signs and no greeters to welcome anyone. (We were admittedly a few minutes late by now– my bad.) There was another couple standing there at the door that said we were at the right place but none of the five of us wanted to go inside. We could see several of the people inside and everyone we saw was wearing dress clothes, men were in suits and women in fancy dresses. They looked so pretty but NOT CASUAL. The couple standing outside with us was also dressed in causal attire, slacks and sport shirts. Someone inside was singing and the meeting had already started. A few of the people inside looked over at us, but no one made any effort to come greet us or invite us in. One man had a look on his face like we were interrupting this meeting because we were standing at the door. We didn’t feel comfortable going inside and the other couple looked uncomfortable too. Our group left and had dinner at a nearby restaurant.
I wonder if anyone visiting our church has ever had a similar experience here at our church. Have they walked in a few minutes late and found the sanctuary doors shut and no one to welcome them? Or before worship were our greeters busy discussing things with friends and the guest who walked in wasn’t noticed? Or could our guest not find the nursery and because they didn’t want to ask anyone they simply left? While I know we have the “anything goes dress code” down have we done everything we can to make guests feel welcome – wanted – valuable?
We can do better than this. The hands and feet of Jesus should be welcoming and hopeful. We need signs, greeters and an atmosphere of hospitality. We need to truly welcome people we don’t know. We should really be excited about every person and especially every person we don’t know who comes inside.
Hospitality begins with the invitation, continues in the parking lot and inside the facility. Do people have a clear accurate invitation? Do we have proper signage and a place reserved for our guests? Are our facilities appropriate, equipped, clean and welcoming? Does every member of our church realize they are greeters, hosts and tour guides? Do we come to be fed or do we come to feed others and in the process we are nourished with God’s love and grace?
I know the organization that invited us to dinner is slowly shrinking. And in many places the church is shrinking too. I recently read somewhere that growing churches are doing things that shrinking churches are unwilling to do. Today I am asking myself, what am I willing to do to make my church more welcoming? How about you?