Yesterday, I was driving by a nearby church, and noticed their big LED sign out front: “SINNERS WELCOME!!!” My first reaction was, “Hey, that’s great.” I’m not totally sure how people would take to that, but that’s a good attitude for a church to have. The sign got me thinking, “I wonder how many churches are — really, truly, honestly, and openly — welcoming to sinners?”
“You’re Not Good Enough For Our Church”
The Goody-Goody Problem
What are some of the underlying reasons for an unwelcoming church? Here are a few:
- Focused on maintenance, not mission. This is the church where the budget, programs, and efforts all reflect an awkward tilt toward maintaining programs and ministering inwardly. This church might be keeping the Christians happy, but they aren’t proclaiming the Good News to the needy.
- Focused on human performance, not the truth of the Gospel. This is also known as legalism. Legalistic churches are places where people can be abused or excluded by a lack of grace. The better of a person you make yourself, the harder it is to understand grace. And the less you understand grace personally, the less you minister it to others. And grace is the only thing that can make a difference in anyone’s heart.
- Focused on comfort, not loving others. This is the Club Church mentality. The church doesn’t look for people to love; instead, they love the comfort of their clique. It’s hard to “reach down” to people who come from dirty houses, speak in broken English, and have an addiction to illegal drugs. Plus, it’s pretty dangerous. This kind of church is a fine example of a cloistered clique, but a poor pattern of proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.
“You’re Not Good Enough for Our Church!”
Nobody in your church would say that to a visitor. However, it might be the feeling that people receive when they visit some churches. Here are some symptoms of an unwelcoming church:
- People stare when a person walks in who doesn’t meet the “dress code.” (I’ve even been to a church where said individual was asked to leave.)
- Everyone stares in horror if someone murmurs aloud during prayer, shouts “Amen!”, applauds after a song, or raises their hands during worship.
- Deacons rush to witness to the man with tattoos and earrings.
- There are separate Sunday worship facilities for “bus kids” or the “outreach ministry.”
What’s the Solution?
I’m not going to give any explicit rules, like “don’t witness to the guy with tats.” Instead, I’ll provide four Bible principles:
- “Become all things to all people,” and “do it all for the sake of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23).
- Like Jesus, endeavor “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
- “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” — which includes all kinds of people (Matthew 28:19).
- “Endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12).