One of the major emphases among church health specialists the past few years is the need to create an atmosphere that is “friendly” to visitors (or guests, as they are preferably called).

Churches have responded well, and it is quite common to find a friendly environment upon entering a church in this day and age.

Among the things you will encounter when visiting a church is a parking lot that is well-marked, often with close-in spaces for visitors.

You will be greeted at the door by designated folks who will usually say something like, “Glad you are with us today,” always with a smiling face, a firm handshake and probably a bulletin or church flier.

In fact, you might even be greeted by someone in the parking lot offering to help you locate the entrance.

Once inside, it is likely you will be directed to a welcome center where you will be afforded the opportunity to complete a form with all your personal information, and a friendly volunteer will point you in the proper direction for worship or Bible study.

During the worship time, people will take a few minutes to wander around the room welcoming visitors with the same “glad you are with us today” mantra.

At some point during the morning, you will hear a litany of opportunities provided by the church to join a small group, attend a Bible study, serve in a ministry, find help for any problem you might have, schedule a time to visit a staff member or sign up for the church mailing list, where you will be given an even longer list of opportunities and activities.

If you are paying the least bit of attention, you will know about several great things the church has to offer.

Finally, you make it through the worship hour and weave your way back to the front door and on to your car. Along that journey, several folks will stop you, stick out their hand and say, “We are so glad you were with us today.”

As you drive off the church parking lot, your spouse will probably say, “That’s sure a friendly church.”

They seemed genuinely glad that you came to visit and will be happy if you choose to return. The church specialists have done an excellent job helping churches be friendly and welcoming to guests.

So what? I get the same treatment whenever I go out to eat, shop at Best Buy or spend the evening at a Texas Rangers game.

They are all glad to see me, more than happy to tell me what else they have to offer and encourage me to come back. Every business that wants to stay in business is friendly.

It seems to me the church has something much greater than friendliness to offer; something folks cannot find in many other places. We need to be caring rather than friendly.

  • Friendliness is a big smile and strong handshake; caring is a genuine interest in the other person.
  • Friendliness is a cheerful greeting; caring is an expression of concern.
  • Friendliness is listing all the things you have to offer; caring is discovering what the other person needs.
  • Friendliness is superficial and takes very little time and effort; caring is sincere and requires taking a risk.
  • Friendliness is concerned with wanting to be liked; caring is striving to be helpful.

Whenever I leave a church after visiting, it is common that the only question I am ever asked is, “Do you live around here?” My response doesn’t matter because they have nothing more to say.

Questions that I expect to be asked by people who really care about me include:

  • What kind of work do you do?
  • Tell me about your family?
  • Why are you in a wheelchair?
  • What brought you to our church this morning?

These are the type of questions we ask when we really want to know someone, and how can you care for someone you don’t know?

I tried this out recently in a church I visited. After shaking hands with two church members, I asked, “What is your name?”

Once they answered, I said, “What do you do?”

I engaged both men in an extended conversation and discovered a great deal about their lives, likes and hopes. The door was open for getting to know them much better. However, neither of them asked a thing about me.

When people visit a church, they don’t need to find a group of “friendly” folks. They need (whether they know it or not) a group of caring folks.

This is one thing a church can do differently than a Wal-Mart greeter.

At least when I go to Best Buy they ask, “How can I help you today?” What a novel idea.

Terry Austin is a Baptist minister in Texas and the principal partner of Austin Brothers Publishing. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Intermission, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @wterrya.

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