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By Jack Wellman

Are there signs that church members are not feeling welcome?  What are the warning signs and what can you do to address the issue of people not feeling welcome?

Back Pew Sitting

We are creatures of habit and just like creatures of habit, the same people will sit in the same place in church every Sunday.  In some cases, if you sit where they normally sit, they might look at you funny when they see you sitting in their place. Now I can understand why some sit in the front or near the front.  They might be hard of hearing and the location of the speakers might better enable them to hear the messages but you’ll notice in about every church you visit that there are those who sit in the very back pews and they often sit by themselves.  Is it only because they like to get out of services quickly?   Probably in some cases but there may be more to it than that.  Those who sit in the back are not those who always feel unwelcome but many times they do.  Before I was called into the ministry, I looked for people in the back rows during the “meet and greet” time in services and also before services started.  Often, that’s where new people show up.  I always looked for people that sat there because the new attendees knew very few people there and they didn’t feel comfortable enough to sit closer to the front.  That’s okay.  I see why they might do that.  I did that too at one time.  Anyway, if you see new people sitting in the back in more isolated areas, maybe they aren’t feeling welcome.  The old church I attended had designated “meet and greet” people.  I loved that idea.  Sometimes I would ask them if I could sit with them and if they agreed, I would sit with them during services.   I tried to make everyone feel welcomed but my purpose was to seek out anyone that was new.  I would go up and make eye contact with them, introduce myself and tell them “Welcome.”  Maybe you need someone in your church designated as a “meet and greeter” to seek out those who seem to isolate themselves by sitting alone in an area always in the back pews, in particular newer people. If no one ever does this, that could be a sign that this church doesn’t welcome new people.

Empty Pews

This is close to what I wrote earlier but is only different in the sense that there are some who sit alone.  They could be single mothers, single men or women, and elderly widows or widowers that have lost someone.   Maybe they’re not interacting with anyone in the congregation.  I am a people watcher.  I love to watch people…not starring at them but I like to watch for cues that something is not right.  One person I saw was sitting there with his head down and barely mumbling the words to the worship song.  I sensed that they were hurting.  I tried to talk to them after services but they slipped out before I could reach them.  The next Sunday I resolved to find him but for some reason, I never saw him again.  Did I drop the ball on that man?  Did our church drop the ball on making that person feel welcome?  Did anyone even try to talk to him and introduce themselves?  During the “meet and greet” I did meet and greet him once but he didn’t say much.  During the “meet and greet” time, I looked at him and instead of getting up out of the pew, he remained seated but that didn’t stop me from going up to him and shaking his hand and telling him “I’m so glad to meet you.”   Making people feel welcome is so important and introducing yourself to new people is essential because you might not see them again.  You may only have one chance to make them feel welcome and if that opportunity goes by with no one to welcome them, that may be the last time you see them.  If you see someone sitting alone and no one goes up to speak with them, that is a serious warning sign that new people don’t feel welcome.

Potluck and Activities Attendance

We had a potluck not long ago at our church and I noticed there were a few people missing that were normally there.  I found out why from our elder’s wife.  Someone had said something about a friend of theirs who was not saved.  They made a derogatory comment about them and so the elder’s wife went out into the parking lot to see if they were still there.  They were still sitting in the car, apparently fuming.  How sad.  If you have a problem with gossip, and I would imagine every church does to some extent, then you may be running new people out of the church.  One of the most destructive of all things that we can do as the Body of Christ is to gossip.  Not only gossiping about members but about their family or friends who are not saved.  Shouldn’t we expect those who live in the world to live like the world?  Since those who are outside of the Body of Christ have no access to the power of God through the Holy Spirit, it isn’t surprising to hear about things that they do that are ungodly.  I believe we should always find something good to say about everyone.  If you start seeing attendance drop at church events then this may be a warning that the church is not being very friendly to its members, not to mention those who might start attending.  If someone new hears some of this gossip, they might decide that they’d be the next target and when people gossip about others, it makes a person feel unwelcome.

You might also look for a person or a family sitting and eating all by themselves.  Why not sit down next to them and open up the conversation and get to know them.  New people sitting all by themselves at a potluck might indicate that they don’t feel very welcome.  They might not be wallflowers but they might just be being ignored.

Church Grounds

What does the property of the church look like?  Is the property kept clean?  Does someone keep the lawn cut?  Are there clear “visitor parking” signs near the front door or are there any at all?  If the church looks dirty and trashy on the outside, new people might think that they don’t care and so why would they care about me?  That is a clear warning sign if no one is in charge of keeping up the church property.  What about the sanctuary? Is it clean and free of trash and old bulletins?  The bathrooms are critical for new visitors.  If there is no organization on cleaning and upkeep of the property that shows that the membership really doesn’t care at all and they visitor will pick up on these cues on their very first visit by what they see on the outside and what they see on the inside.  Does the church sign look inviting or is it out of date or is dirty and unkempt?  Does the church sign say “Welcome?”

The Entrance Exam

I heard of an experience where a new man came into a church and one of the first things that he was asked was “Do you speak in tongues?  Have you ever been filled with the Spirit?”  Wow…when does the entrance exam begin?  If one of the first things we do is to ask a new person what their doctrinal beliefs are this sends a strong message to the new person that unless you agree with us you shouldn’t be here.  That was the last time that this man ever darkened their doorstop again.   I can’t say that I blame him.  Why not introduce yourself to the new person.   Others might say “What church did you come from?” assuming that this person had just moved and was finding a new church home.  We can’t assume anything at this point.  How do you know that they aren’t already a Christian?  We should never presume whether they have been or haven’t been saved.  Why not get to know them first.  Don’t pummel them with twenty questions right after you meet them.  For churches that hold dogmatically to certain beliefs that are non-essential, that can give the impression that they don’t like anyone with different beliefs.  This church will probably never welcome someone new who doesn’t believe exactly as they do.  I am not saying that the essentials are not important (e.g. Rom 10:9-13, Acts 4:12, Rom 3:23, 6:23) but we must show grace in the non-essentials.

The Welcome Mat is Missing

If some of these things are not being done or these needs are not being addressed, then the new person that walks through the door may never come back again.  Which of these are missing?

  • Do we introduce ourselves and do we ask anything at all about new visitors…about their family, work, where they live, etc.?
  • Do we ever do follow up visits for new members?
  • Do greeters wear name tags and offer to pass out temporary name tags for new people?
  • Does the church lobby offer any kind of brochure about the church and what the church’s purpose is?
  • Does anyone ever invite them to participate in a community event or service project once they’ve been there a few Sundays?
  • Does anyone ever shake their hand and make eye contact?
  • Does the church ever consider sending them a welcome letter and offer a home visit if they wish?
  • Would a church ever feature information on new members or their families in the church bulletin that the visitor could read to see that are welcoming to new people?
  • Would anyone ever welcome them to join a Sunday school class and offer to sit next to them to introduce them to others in the class?
  • Would the church ever offer them an opportunity to serve?
  • Does the church sometimes smother them with too many people all at once?
  • Who would tell parents that a children’s church or a nursery is available for their children?
  • Does anyone ever portray friendliness to the new visitors?
  • Does the church have any type of training for church greeters?
  • Does the church have a dedicated place in the sanctuary or the entrance hallway for visitors with information on the church that they can take with them so that they can look it over then or later?
  • Does the church brochure or flyer with information about the church focus primarily on doctrine and not on serving?
  • Does the church offer a Welcome Folder or packet with information about the church or a personal letter from the pastor, contact information, a map of the church and a list of church services and functions?
  • Does your church ever ask for a show of hands for new visitors?
  • Does the pastor, deacon, elder, or worship leader ever publicly acknowledge new visitors?
  • Does anyone ever offer to take new visitors out to lunch after services?

Conclusion

The next time a new person walks into your church, why not go up to them and introduce yourself and say “We are so very glad to have you with us and we’d like to welcome you to our church family? If you have any questions, just ask, my name is Joe Smith.  Feel free to let me know what I can do for you.  It’s a pleasure meeting you.”

If you are not being Christ-like to new people then you might want to have the church do a self-examination.  Hospitality is more than a gift of the Spirit. It is what Christ would do so “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Gal 6:10).

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

21 Responses

  1. Jojo Avav

    It really is funny how so many people sit in the back pews. It seems like “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” doesn’t apply here. The front row isn’t a place of honor anymore. It’s a place of bravery.

    Reply
    • Jack Wellman

      Great point Mr. Avav. I see in the church that I pastor at, these are sometimes the first ones that are gone after services, even before the closing benediction.

      Reply
  2. Larry

    Another reason is that the people of the church aren’t tuned into the compassion that the Holy Spirit gives them. People can feel left out and not loved. Especially those going through hard times. We had to learn this the hard way and finally left a church where there was no hope left of having a Godly relationship that extended past Sunday.

    Reply
  3. Mark

    So how do you feel about visitors who come to church that don’t feel welcome and who DO NOT want to feel welcome? What about those of us who are outsiders and know we are? Yes, there are outsiders within the Body and some of us will always feel like outsiders – both now and in eternity. A person knows when he does not fit in and, in fact, cannot fit in because he cannot identify with what’s popular. For those who are convinced that some relationship problems within the church are unsolvable and who do not want to try to relate to others for this reason, it’s a pretty lonely path to walk.

    Reply
    • Jack Wellman

      I see what you are saying my friend. I know its a lonely path. If you don’t want to feel welcome, I am not sure what can be done. I was an outsider at school as we moved into a new town. I was made fun of and scorned by everyone and my father abandoned me when I was a baby so I never knew my real father. I wish I could give you some advice but for someone who doesn’t want to feel welcome, what can we do? We are a very tiny church and we all love one another and so maybe a smaller church would be better or a bigger church where you’d could be more anonymous. Not all churches have relationship problems but if you are convinced that it is unsolvable, I am afraid you will always walk a lonely path but if I could meet you, I would like to get to know you and listen to your story and not judge you. Thank you sir for your honest comment.

      Reply
  4. Kate

    My husband and I were still fairly new in town and hadn’t yet settled on a church. On our first visit to a big “First” church, we attended the early sanctuary service. Having done our homework by first visiting the website, we recognized the pastor. He was standing in the back of the sanctuary and we walked over to introduce ourselves. While I was speaking, he suddenly turned and left to greet another couple. We recognized them as Dr. and Mrs. ______, the new president of the local university. I guess it was their first visit too. The pastor gave them a big smile, shook their hands and we could hear him saying how glad he was to welcome them. He personally escorted them to a pew, then continued to the front. We were left standing there, feeling about as welcome as dry rot. Although we stayed for the service, we never returned because of the pastor’s rudeness.

    Reply
    • Jack Wellman

      Thank you Kate. How sad that someone who is supposed to be the spiritual leader dropped the ball on you both. He should be the most loving, warm, and hospitable person in the church. I cannot blame you by not going back. I am sorry for your experience.

      Reply
  5. Marco

    I have been attending a bible teaching church near my home; but apparently “I must have scattered some pearls amongts the swine.”

    I shared my story with some pastors about my former life as a homosexual, and am now noticing their distance.

    It’s pretty sad when a saved soul can’t find a nice church that is welcoming, although not compromising on scriptures.

    Reply
    • Jack Wellman

      I agree Marco. I think sharing real life stories of people overcoming can really inspire others to keep fighting. I am so sorry. They have no right to judge you for what God has already forgiven you. That is a shame sir. I am so sorry. Not all churches are like that. We’re not. May God encourage you to keep on going sir.

      Reply
  6. debbie

    hi i turned to the church last October because my cat got run over and i turned to God for help the church i go to the reverend did nothing to help me i emailed him about what happened to my cat so he knew and when i started going to church he never once asked me how I’m doing or how i feel in fact in the 6months i was going there he never spoke to me only hello or goodbye .the people there are juist a small group as i go on a Wednesday as i work sundays .they not that friendly not once have offered to meet for coffee or even ask for my phone number so now after really trying at that church even saying to the reverend i would like to donate to the church his attitude doesn’t change . i have heard form a lady i know at my Christianity course that she has heard about the church and that the reverend is unapproachable to a lot of people and they hoping he will leave . this made me feel a bit better as he made me feel so bad i felt it was me he didn’t like or he blamed me because i told him my cat was run over ,i loved my cat so much i was heartbroken when it happened and i cared for her so much didn’t let her out at night didn’t have cat flap so i could monitor how much she went out but this day i got her in and she sneaked back out i thought the church would help me with my heartbreak but know as always i get ignored the one place i thought i could turn too a and this happens why is God putting me through this now i dont know what to do about a new church as i cantgo through this again being let down all my life you dont expect this from Gods church they are meant to welcome you and show love just feeling very upset

    Reply
    • Jack Wellman

      Hello Debbie. Let me say I am so sorry for all of this heartache. The truth is, great irritations create a precious pearl, so there are no perfect churches, and even me, a pastor, are infinitely short of perfection and of course, God’s glory, so don’t let one bad experience take you away from the Body of Christ. We are not to be outside of the church (Heb 10:24-25), so trust Jesus in this. He is the Head of the Church and all of us will stand before Him to give an account of our lives. Let me suggest you read Rom 5:6-10 and Phil chapter 2. God gives us what we don’t deserve and so we can’t have higher standards of acceptance of people than God does. Does that make sense? My prayers are for you.

      Reply
      • debbie

        thank you Jack for your reply yes it does make sense .
        i love to go to church and worship God i carried on going there because the reverend did a good service and was hoping things would change .
        i am going to look for another church i know it wont be perfect as i am not perfect either ,i just want to be at a church where i can talk to the reverend without feeling uncomfortable I’m sure i will find one .God bless Debbie

  7. debbie

    hi jack its me again
    what do you think i should do should i try and be more friendly and talk to the reverend more i miss church and was getting to know the people there maybe he just doesn’t like me . what do you think God would want me to do i want to do the right thing ,what would you do thank you debbie

    Reply
    • Jack Wellman

      Hello Debbie. I would talk to him and tell him just what you told me. Transparency is a strength in my opinion. If you miss church, that’s a good sign.

      Reply
  8. debbie

    hi Jack . its Debbie i just wanted to let you know that i have took the step and by a lovely Christian friend of mine i decided to go with her to her church .Jack it is lovely so welcoming and a loving church i feel God there on Sunday the service was beautiful and i cried .
    the Reverend is so nice he even gave me a kiss so i have now found my church home and i feel God has led me to this church.
    Praise the Lord

    Reply
    • Jack Wellman

      Hello Debbie. Such good news. I know so many who are scattered around the world who have no church home and for them, it can be deadly. I thank God that He lead you to your new church home.

      Reply
  9. debbie

    hi Jack thank you .
    i pray for these people who have not found good church homes. may God bless them and lead them the way to a good church

    Reply

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