Hello Is Not Enough

Vantage Point
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Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, once said, “The local church is the hope of the world.”

That is quite a responsibility for any church member! You have probably helped stimulate church growth by raising your children in the church, but I suggest that we all have a calling to do more than that.

My husband and I have been church greeters for over 20 years. When greeting guests, we try to ask a few questions, like “Are you visiting or newcomers to the area?” If they are newcomers, we ask their name and write it down for further reference. Most people are very friendly. Greeting isn’t always easy, but the reward comes later when someone says, “Thank you for talking to me,” or, “You are the first person to remember our names, and it makes us feel like we belong.” We have asked other members of our church to take a turn to be greeters. Some people are quite shy and are unsure about doing this—but invariably afterward they say, “It was fun!”

We always wonder how we will be greeted in other Christian Reformed churches. Typically the greeters will say hello and shake hands with us. Other than that, though, we have been left standing in the middle of a fellowship hall, holding our coffee and cookies while everyone else is busy chatting with their friends. If this has ever happened to you, you know what that feels like.

It’s a pleasant surprise when people take the time to say hello to us. But are they really interested in us? Would we ever join one of these churches? Probably not.

My experience has taught me that “hello” is not enough. We are called to make newcomers feel comfortable and welcome. To accept them just as they are. God does! What our churches need are greeters not only before church but also after church. That means you. When you go to your church, look for guests, and make it a point to meet them after the service.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “But this is not my gift.” Trust me: the more you do it, the easier it gets. And how the angels in heaven will sing when you are kind to a seeking stranger! Remember, “The local church is the hope of the world.” May your church grow because you care enough to step out of your comfort zone and enfold newcomers.

About the Author

Ruth Kamps lives in Gallup, N.Mex., and attends Rehoboth Christian Reformed Church.

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I agree completely with the author, the CRC is not very welcoming or enfolding of visitors to the church.  Many churches like to say they are, but from a visitors perspective they are not.  My husband and I have moved many times and have 'church shopped' to find a church to call home.  I can't begin to tell you how many times we also stood in the middle of the fellowship hall looking very awkward that no one was engaging us in conversation.  It was a sign to us that we really were not welcome.  One church in particular stands out in my mind (name and place shall remain anonymous),  We had been attending this church for a few months and considering joining until an incident happened, on more than one occasion.  I had walked up to a group of women who were having a conversation, laughing, obviously having a good time.  There was no hello, no inclusion in to the conversation, no acknowledgement of ones presence and the next thing I knew they all dispersed, leaving me standing their wondering what in the world just happened?  Again this happened 3 different times, by the third time that was enough to say no to this church.  

Of all the churches we have been members of and visited the CRC is probably the most unfriendly at welcoming strangers...sad isn't it.  So the question is how do we go about changing this culture?

Mary, I would like to balance your comment a bit.  I have been to numerous churches of various denominations, as well as numerous crc as well.  I have found a Lutheran church in Arizona the least welcoming in terms of conversation after church, while on the other hand, a baptist church in the same town invited us to stay for the potluck, and a community church in Tennessee invited us to sing in the choir.  But the way different churches welcome you is different, depending on size.  A large Alliance church in Edmonton will welcome you through signs and booths and programs, while a small church will welcome you through individual conversation since they know who is new.  No one in our small church who is new, ever leaves without being engaged by someone, unless they leave in a big hurry before anyone has a chance to meet them.  But Mary, I acknowledge and sorrow for the cliquishness and rudeness that you have experienced.  As far as I am concerned I find it inexcusable, and directly contrary to the message of the gospel which they supposedly come there to listen to and share in.  I suspect there may be some friendly people however, who might be waiting to come out of the dark, if they  can be found. 

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