During my ministry, I have visited a number of churches and not always as the supply preacher or in an “official” role. Often I have just dropped in on a worship service and have experienced how a church welcomes (or fails to welcome) a guest.
Before worship one Sunday morning, I found a seat and was immediately approached by an older lady who greeted me and then said, “That’s a nice seat, isn’t it? I always enjoy sitting there.” The lesson from this is that the visitor should always offer to give up his or her seat if it appears that you have encroached on a member’s territory!
In another church, a man came up to me after the service and, rather than introducing himself, said, “And just who are you?” This type of greeting is probably rooted in a fear of pastor search committee members who might want to “steal” a pastor away.
Several years ago, I was hosting an international student from Africa in our church’s Sunday worship service. I noticed a few stares and afterward overheard someone say, “Well, I knew it was all right if he was with Ircel.” I think we have come a long way since then.
In my visits, I have also noted that the welcome extended may have something to do with demographics. A young family with children is often greeted more warmly than a single person, male or female, who is alone. This probably says something about the type of people a church wants to attract into their fellowship, either consciously or unconsciously.
Most churches are welcoming to guests, but this is most often true if they have intentionally built a culture of hospitality into their fellowship. Next Sunday, sit back and observe how your fellow church members greet newcomers. You may learn something that will help you be more effective in making people feel welcome.