Have you ever visited a new church hoping to experience a warm welcome, only to feel like you’ve walked into someplace you didn’t belong? This is an unfortunate reality that lots of people deal with when they’re trying to find a church they can call home.
Many churches claim to be welcoming, but few are. What is it that sets welcoming churches apart, and how do you know if you’ve stepped into one?
3 things welcoming churches do
Mahatma Ghandi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” The behavior of Christians can make or break someone’s openness to faith and church. Jesus knew this, which is why he gave such specific marching orders to his followers in 13:34-35:
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
Jesus knew his followers would need more than lip service to reach people with the Gospel, the Good News of the hope we all have in Christ. He knew it would take intentional actions, deliberate displays of love, to draw people in close enough to hear this message.
If you want to get a good gauge on how closely a church is following Jesus, all you need to look at is how they treat others. Here are three indicators a church is getting this right:
1. They make room for people in process
A welcoming church is a safe space for people, no matter where they are on their faith journey. Others can belong before they believe. These churches embody the same patience Jesus extends to each of us: embracing people in their process, without forcing them to be further down the road than they already are.
Following Jesus should set change and growth into motion, but we all experience life change at our own pace. A welcoming church doesn’t shame people for where they’re at in their journey, but instead meets them there and walks alongside them as they learn and grow.
2. They speak in a way that honors others
Our words have the power to build or break. Honoring others in how we speak, both to and about them, creates an atmosphere of respect and unity. However, many churches are torn apart by a lack of sensitivity and discretion in the way their people speak. Gossip is especially insidious, and yet far too common in many church communities.
Proverbs 16:26 warns against the harm caused by gossip, stating that "a perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends." A church that prioritizes relationships guards against conversations that tear down and has no tolerance for gossip.
3. They fight for unity
We’ve all experienced seasons of cultural division and tension. Churches should be a safe haven from unrest, yet so many people find just as much polarization within a church as they do outside of it.
In Galatians 5:15, the apostle Paul cautions against divisive behavior within the church community, stating, "If you are always biting at and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying each other."
A welcoming church fights for unity, ensuring that it is not just a concept but a tangible reality. Instead of making sure everyone agrees, these churches look for ways to honor and love each other despite differences – and to center around what everyone shares in Christ.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for healthy disagreement in relationships. Conflict aversion can be detrimental to a welcoming culture, so it’s important to learn how to engage in conflict in a productive way.
It starts with us
To quote our friend Gandhi again, we’re challenged to “be the change [we] wish to see in the world.” If you’re frustrated by the unwelcoming environment some churches have created, look inward first before you start pointing fingers.
Ask yourself, “What would someone conclude about who Jesus is if all they had to go off was the way you treat people?” Our actions reflect our beliefs, and the way we treat others can be a powerful testimony to the life-changing love of Christ. (This also means our behavior can be a testimony against it if we’re not careful.)
A healthy church is intentional about its relationships, reflecting the love of Christ in every interaction. By making room for people in their journey and doing everything possible to honor others and their differences, a church will attract both believers and non-believers alike.
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LCBC stands for Lives Changed By Christ. We are one church in multiple locations across Pennsylvania. Find the location closest to you or join us for Church Online. We can’t wait to connect with you!