“Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it” (Luke 17:33).

My small congregation has received four new members this year, from three different generations, and in the past month, I’ve baptized three children. So I’ve been thinking a good bit about how churches welcome new people.

That’s why a brief article in this week’s The Christian Century caught my eye and pointed me to the blog of the online journal Ministry Matters. In the August 13 post, Matt Rosine noted that churches are still trying to answer questions visitors aren’t asking:

  1. So how soon can I get involved with your committees?
  2. Can I get a longer bulletin—maybe something with more detail?
  3. Will you please single me out in front of all the people during worship this morning?
  4. Will you please send some "callers" by my house later and interrupt me while I fix dinner?
  5. Can you please seat us in those uncomfortable pews with our fidgety kids and aging parents?
  6. How quickly can I fill out a pledge card?
  7. Does this church have weekly meetings, rehearsals and other activities that will consume most of our family’s free time?
  8. I need more paperwork! Can you give me a folder filled with glossy pamphlets, old newsletters and denominational statements of belief?
  9. During the worship service, can someone with a monotone voice speak (at length) about all the insider church happenings and people’s private health matters? I find this so inspiring.

Of course, these are all the wrong questions, arising out of the congregation’s need to perpetuate itself as an institution through the accumulation of “nickels and noses” as a minister colleague of mine quipped recently. The questions I have discovered over my 35+ years of ministry that people are actually asking, no matter what their age, are all about finding a place to belong, a community that cares for them, a sense of continuity with what they have known in other places, hospitality to their spoken needs,  discernment about their unspoken ones, and a safe place to express their fears and doubts. They don’t want to be descended on, singled out or deluged with paper. They simply want to be cared for, valued for who they are (not as replacements for those who have died or departed to other churches), and welcomed with all their gifts and questions and ideas.

Jesus may have been talking about individuals in the Luke text cited at the beginning of this post, but his gracious warning and promise also applies to institutions. It is only when churches are willing to lose their lives for the sake of hospitality and mission that they will truly find them.

© 2013 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

Source: http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/blog/entry/3151/nine-questions-church-visitors-arent-asking-but-churches-are-still-trying-to-answer

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