June 5, 2005 | 9 Comments

I have often thought that we spend too much time in church services trying to make people feel welcome. It’s not that we don’t want people to feel welcome, we certainly do. However, all these attempts to make people feel welcome create a division of sorts. And this division creates a consumer mindset for those who are attending the church. Here’s some examples of things that I have noticed as we’ve been visiting different churches lately:

  • As we were walking out of church today, several people were standing outside saying “Thanks for coming.” What that subtly communicatas is, “Thanks for consuming the services that we had to offer you today.” It is as if there are a select group of people who represent the church itself, and all the rest of us are just there to receive what they offer.
  • Sometimes churches have select people with nametags, and they say or print things such as “If you have a need or prayer concern, find someone with a nametag. We’re here for you.” Again, this creates a customer service minded approach where those who are attending the church are there to be served by those who are really in at the church — consumerism.
  • People are often given opportunities to fill out cards with their contact information, along with places to comment, or even check a box that says “Please have a pastor call me.”

I don’t think any of these things are inherently wrong, and we may perhaps even use variations of some or all of them at Pathways. However, there is a danger in what they subtly communicate that we have to think through. Even to those who regularly attend, it creates a perception that there is a select group of people that is there to provide for them. How can we make people fell like they are genuinely welcomed in the community without communicating that they are consumers who are there to receive the services and good we have to offer them? How can we connect them not just on a consumer level, but on a community level?

  • AMEN! My wife and I had the same experience ands thoughts this morning with a church that we visited. We have some great friends of ours who will not darken the doorway of a church precisely because they see it as a business, or just another consumeristic option. They actually hunger for community, but don’t see the church as a viable option for that. Interesting.

  • Cameron Erlandson

    Maybe part of the problem is that pastors who believe that their key role is ‘preparing God’s people for works of service’ (which I also agree with) don’t do a good enough job of creating a culture within the church that demosntrates what the church community should be, but instead select a few individuals to be the ‘greeters’, ‘prayer leaders, ‘ushers’, etc. It feels good to know that someone will take care of these truly important parts of ministry, but it should not just be given over to a few people. After all, people should be welcomed into the church, prayed for, and given a seat during the services. The problem again is that our desire for organization (also something I agree with) has co-opted our responsibility to create a culture that encourages the entire church community to do all of these things as God opens up the opportunity to do so.
    We are more than our spiritual gifts, but instead are whole Christian, if that makes sense.

  • i think that if you are a church that has a mindset of servitude, then all the problems that these kinds of issues present are whiped away. if you are a church that communicates every sunday that you are a missional community that exists to serve and love those inside AND outside the church, then to thank visitors for checking out this community is not so much kissing ass, but rather encouraging others to become a part of a group that is trying to better the world around them.

    the one snag in all this is that it’s hard to call yourself a missional church that is only insteresting in serving God and serving others when you have high end furniture in your lobby. Also, if your new church building is being designed after the local high end “outdoor mall”, then there is little chance of your overcoming these kinds of problems.

  • In all honesty, I think most newcomers to the “church world” are somewhat expecting to serve and not just be served, and I think we are slowly robbing them of those opprotunities. Sure they come because it is a “safe” environment and they reason it out in their heads (coming to the conclusion that stability and safety is what is most important), but I don’t think most seekers come looking for that. Whose idea was it anyway to make the Church a “safe” environment where we are consumers? I think it is ultimately confusing more people then it is helping.

  • i am never wearing a nametag again!
    down with name tags!

    … sometimes …. i think that people are genuinely just trying their best to help others feel welcome & comfortable so the do it in modes and forms that they are familiar with. it may NOT be for a lack of genuine interest or care in others that they do it in a form that lacks creativity and deep thought.
    personally i like the good old fashioned “HI”.

  • True, having name tags and other things does not neccessarily constitute a lack of heart, nor a lack of deep thought, but sometimes these little small things can add up and appear to create a lack of thought, period. Choosing to wear a name tag or disowning them really, in itself, is something very pety indeed, but lots of these little things add up and create a sterile church culture, a corporate church culture, or a consumer-driven church culture, however you want to phrase it.

  • Noelle in Brea

    Furthermore, the “community” that it creates is about as authentic as all of those pre-packaged master planned downtowns we love so much (Starbucks, a movie theatre, AND an Anne Taylor Loft all in pseudo-colonial architecture! Be still my heart!). Christian community isn’t something you can institutionalize or otherwise fake.

  • Mankind builds and organizes. It’s simply a part of who God has created us to be. The Bible starts with paradise being in a garden, and ends with God dwelling amongst us in the midst of a great city.

    Neither the concept of an organization or institution is evil in itself. They are also not the opposite of community. They are both very neutral tools, much like money or technology. The danger comes when we place the organization, institution, or use of any of the tools ahead of our purpose.

  • at my church, visitors are ignored like the new kid at school….