Reformed churches have a long-standing reputation for being the “frozen chosen.” There are a number of historic factors that contribute to this well-known but mistaken characterization including a concern for the purity of doctrine, worship practices that are fitting for the majesty and holiness of the God we worship, and a desire to use church discipline in a biblical but nevertheless pastoral manner. These concerns should not merit the label, frozen chosen. But on the other hand, I have visited a number of Reformed churches over the years that do warrant the label. How so? Stated simply, some of the churches I’ve visited have been unfriendly places.
I have entered into the church, sat down, participated in worship, smiled at the people around me, and then after the service walked out, entered my car, and departed without anyone saying hi, welcoming me, or extending hospitality to me. From one standpoint, this doesn’t really bother me because I figure that I’m passing through town and it’s not my home church. But from another standpoint, I think such an experience is problematic because, what if I was looking for a new church home? Would this be the type of place where I would want to worship? Probably not. So what’s a church to do? I think there are several easy things that a church can do to ensure that it is a warm and inviting place.
First, this may seem like a no brainer, but provide name tags for the adult members in the church. I say adult members because children would likely loose them. But I suspect that one reason people are afraid to approach others is because they don’t know their names! Perhaps they visited on a previous occasion and feel embarrassed that they can’t remember names. Name tags fixes this problem. Church members and visitors no longer have to worry about not knowing a person’s name.
Second, encourage the members of your church to smile and be friendly. I think this is something that ultimately flows from the pulpit and elders of the church. I understand that worship should be a solemn occasion at times—repenting of grievous sin, for example, isn’t something that usually elicits smiles and laughs. Nevertheless, if you, dear pastor, present a warm smile and kind greeting to people from the pulpit and in your own personal interaction with visitors, your congregation will notice. They’ll do likewise. If you see someone you don’t know, go over to them and welcome them; introduce yourself. Get to know them.
Third, I have seen churches do this successfully: have families prepared to invite visitors to their homes after worship. This means you need to have extra food prepared just in case. Yes, this can be inconvenient if you don’t have any visitors—too much food and not enough people. Nevertheless, if you ask families to serve as visitor hosts on a rotating basis, this can be a wonderful way to welcome visitors. My own family has invited people to our church followed with an invitation to our home afterwards.
Fourth, remind your elders that they too must set a friendly tone for visitors. If your elders are constantly on the lookout to identify, welcome, and host visitors, you can rest assured that guests will not be ignored
These four simple steps are a great way to ensure that no visitor goes ignored and that no one walks away from your church with the impression that they’ve just left a theological meat locker.