The other day, I was driving through REO town, a great up-and-coming part of Lansing, when I notice this sign above the door. It reads, “If you don’t know if you’re welcome here; -YOU’RE NOT!” Now, this sign is above the door for a biker bar, but it made me think a couple of things.
First, I am pretty sure that I am not welcome there. I haven’t seen anyone go in or out, but I am sure that I don’t have the right leather to clothe ration in my outfit to make it past the door. And even if I did get inside, I am pretty sure that I won’t know the right way to conduct myself. Now, I am sure that those who know they are welcome find a friendly place. I would imagine that they treat each other like family, for good or for ill. It is easy to feel welcome in a place where you know how to act. Where people speak the same language, where everyone knows the inside details of how things work but going into a place like that can be very intimidating for anyone who doesn’t know the vocabulary or the rituals.
This brought me to my second thought. While I know we would never put this sign above our door at Christ Community Church, are we working to be the most welcoming place we can be? For people who have never been inside a church or have been away from church for a long time, it can be even more intimidating than it would be for me to walk into that biker bar. For many, they are walking into a foreign place that might feel like the people there are speaking a foreign language. They might not know the rituals that we do each week. It is easy for us to get into our patterns and habits and not think about what it might be like for a first-time visitor to experience worship with us.
As we look to revitalize Christ Community Church, we will look for all the ways that we can be as welcoming as possible. Sometimes, it will be explaining why we are doing what we are doing—helping them feel more comfortable in times of communion or prayer or offering or the many other things we do naturally during our worship service. Other times, it will be making sure that there is parking for new visitors that is near the doors, and once they make it inside, we watch for cues on whether they want to be welcomed by everyone or welcomed by only a few and allowed to experience the service on their terms. This will also mean finding new ways of communicating with the people who join us in worship.
As we look with hope to all that God will do in our midst to welcome new people into our congregation, we might think about putting up a sign that reads, “If you don’t know if you’re welcome here; YOU ARE!” Because in Christ, all are welcome to experience God’s love, grace, and hope!