“Becoming A Welcoming Church,” by Thom S. Rainer. Published 2018 by B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN. This review refers to the hardcover edition.
I was first introduced to Thom Rainer a year or so ago when I stumbled across his blog. The particular entry that I read was about the dreaded “stand and greet” time that seems to be ever present in worship services. As someone who is fairly introverted I look forward to stand and greet time in the same way that other people look forward to root canals. Sometimes I just can’t help but stand around and look awkward. Still, after many, many years of going to church I’ve generally learned to deal with it. In some ways it’s helped me come out of my shell a little bit. However, to this day, it’s quite uncomfortable for me.
Imagine my surprise when I read that Rainer, who doubles as both pastor and church consultant, said that his research had found that a lot OTHER PEOPLE feel the same way that I do about the stand and greet time! I was not alone! In fact he says that as many as 6 in 10 church members don’t care for the stand and greet, and when he surveys guests and visitors that number goes up to 8 in 10. Wow. So then why do we continue to do something that as many as 60% of our members and 80% of our visitors don’t like?
Now this is a review of the book, not a hit piece on the stand and greet. I just use this as example of the things that Rainer challenges us as church members to think about and reevaluate. Many of us love our churches. Even though we sometimes have relatively minor disagreements (about things like stand and greet) we are generally satisfied with the way things run. In other words, we are comfortable.
Sometimes when we get comfortable we often get blind to things that others notice. Sometimes these things can be pretty obvious to others. A number of these things have to do with our physical facility–the church building. Are the restrooms clean and well stocked? Is the carpet clean? Are there any physical safety hazards? Are there places with peeling and aging paint? Are the pews or chairs covered with stains from spills? Are there piles of clutter sitting around: things like old hymnals or Bibles gathering dust? For most of us that are there every week, we tend to miss those things. They may even seem petty, but with visitors and guests the old saying is true–you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Rainer suggests that many first time visitors decide if they’re going to return or not in the first few minutes.
It’s not all about physical facilities though. Rainer suggests that the attitudes of members also have a big part to play. Part of the premise of the entire book is that church members usually think they are friendly. You can go to any number of church websites and find the proclamation that “we are a FRIENDLY church!” But how does that assertion square up with the perceptions guests have when they actually arrive? Rainer suggests that if we are truly open to asking the hard questions, we might not like what we see. Two of the biggest issues that visitors often have with the stand greet time are that first off, many of the greetings they get do not seem genuine, that the reason people greet them is that they are expected to. Second, it often comes across as a ritual for members only. Again, it can be hard for us to see that. He’s not necessarily saying that we mean to come across as fake or forced, or that we mean to stick with our friends. Naturally we want to see our friends and fellowship, and we don’t necessarily mean to exclude others, but that’s the perception we give off. He talks a lot about what he calls “Holy Huddles.” This is where of groups two, three, or more members are scattered throughout the facility talking to each other and ignoring visitors. We don’t necessarily see that as bad because we’re with our friends in our community, but Rainer says that if we’re not careful these holy huddles and other issues can make our guests feel as if they’ve crashed a private party to which they weren’t invited.
This book was chuck full of good, practical ideas on these and other issues. He also talks extensively about what your church’s online presence should look like as well as how to create a clean and safe environment for children. Rainer says that churches ignore that at their own peril, as child sex abuse has been the biggest litigation issue for churches in recent years. Many of these issues can be taken care of by having background checks performed on ANYONE in the church who works with children. He tells some real horror stories about this and I think that every church should read them. Making safety and security a priority protects kids and the church and should be one of our number one jobs as followers of Jesus Christ.
I picked this book up because our church is really trying to redefine our welcoming ministry. For the first time in a long time we have a person in our church who’s big focus is on making sure visitors feel welcome. She is then training others to do the same thing. It’s a cool thing to watch! I started this book last Saturday and then really tried to pay attention to guests at our service on Sunday. I found myself actually going up to some visitors and introducing myself–on purpose! Not bad for an introvert! I would really recommend this book to any church member, but specifically to those who are taking part in or starting welcoming ministries.
*I did not receive a review copy or any compensation for this review. This is all me. I really do suggest that you check it out!