Every now and then someone lets you in. They open their door and, with a bit of vulnerability, allow you to see and hear what they are experiencing. Several years back, a middle-aged couple in our church opened their door, when they told me: “We’ve been members here for 12 years and we still feel like outsiders.” They weren’t complaining as much as they were inviting me to stand next to them as they shared their story of our church.
With stories full of gratitude, they shared how they had started attending our church. They recalled the welcoming smiles when they first visited. They could still name several people who took the initiative to introduce themselves and who would talk with them every Sunday morning. They emphasized how our church had made them feel welcome. It did not take long after becoming members before they were invited to participate in various ministries. Eventually, they even stepped into church leadership roles.
But after 12 years, they could count on one hand the number of times someone had invited them over to their house or out to an event. They shared how they longed for a community that really knew them and took an interest in them as people, not just members of the church. The congregation had welcomed them into their Sunday routines and into church roles with open arms, but had not made room for them in the rest of their lives. They had no doubt that the church would be there for them in an emergency. But when their was no emergency, the church seemed content with them being at an arm’s length, a Sunday-only distance. Even though they deeply loved the church, they carried a sadness over this absence of meaningful community.
Though I am in a different ministry setting now, I have recalled that conversation twice in the last couple weeks. The first time was as I sat with a woman in our congregation who shared her vision for what welcoming others could look like. So much of what she shared resonated with this couple’s longing for community, for belonging within a Christian community where people took more than a superficial interest in each other. Her idea of welcoming had some Sunday details, but more of it spilled into relationships that grew and developed throughout the week.
Then the second time I remembered the conversation was as I read an article in the Washington Post. The article is excerpted from Growing Young, a book I am looking forward to reading when it comes out later this fall. Drawing from their research, the authors relate how youth (broadly defined as those in their teens and twenties) are looking for “warmth” in a church more than anything else. They argue in this article that youth are looking for church to be more like a family, rather than a cool church or nice place to visit.
Pastor Dante Venegas, one of my early mentors in ministry, used to remind us that racial reconciliation is not about who you sit next to on Sunday morning, but who you hang out with on Friday night. As I listen to these voices, I am convinced that his teaching has a broader application. Being God’s people together is more about who we welcome into our lives throughout the week than who we say hello to on Sunday morning.
So how do we break through this Sunday-only barrier? How do we shift the culture in our churches toward being a community together throughout the week? Instead of simply being a friendly community when gathered together on Sunday morning, can we become a community of friends – of brother and sisters – with each other throughout the week?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.
- What practices does your church have for welcoming people into your community and your way of life beyond Sunday?
- What gets in the way of making room for others to become part of your daily life, and not just your Sunday routines?
- Do you have a story of someone welcoming you into their life – not just their Sunday worship space?