About This Blog

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

"Becoming a Welcoming Church" (Thom S. Rainer)

TITLE: Becoming a Welcoming Church
AUTHOR: Thom S. Rainer
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing House, 2018, (128 pages).

"Are you willing to set aside your preconceived notions about your church? Are you willing to look at your church more honestly and more clearly? Are you willing to do what it takes to be a welcoming, gospel-centered church?" These attention-grabbing questions would make the most stubborn church leader to squeak out a yes. After all, who wouldn't want to be more honest, more caring, and more welcoming to strangers?
For Thom Rainer, this is his 27th book in his career as a publicist, author, and believer in the strengthening of the Church at large. This book is spurred by his desire to help churches wake up to one of the most important tasks at hand: To welcome the stranger just like Jesus had done. He wants us to take a hard look at ourselves to do better than before. Hospitality is a key attribute of a welcoming church.

In "Becoming a Welcoming Church," Rainer helps us take a hard look at ourselves, beginning with a humble confession that most of our welcoming strategies are not working as intended. Some of the observations in the book ought to make any Church leader sit up and reflect on their own congregations. Wake-up calls such as:

  • Misconceived ideas about what friendliness means;
  • Unclear signage or non-existent website;
  • Unsafe and unclean premises;
  • Lack of information about the church;
  • Boring church services;
  • Judgmental members;
  • The stand-and-greet part of the worship service tends to be designed for the members rather than visitors! 
Rainer then helps us focus on five key areas for improvement. Firstly, it is about a mindset change to think not from members' perspective but from the visitors' point of view. Just because we think we are friendly does not mean visitors will feel the same way. In fact, church members are often clueless about what guests are thinking. He goes right to the point even before the Church service begins. Will anyone chat with the visitors and offer a welcome? How do guests feel the moment they enter the Church? Will they be comfortable to come back? A key point is that guests should not be acknowledged just during the Church service. There ought to be consistency of welcome by all. Rainer also notes that in many churches, "holy huddles" are common. While members benefit from socializing with fellow members, visitors often do not have that advantage, which could easily discourage them from coming again. Other strange reasons (but legitimate) includes lighting, audio or visual problems during service; even becoming over-friendly. Thus, churches need to learn discernment as well not to overdo anything, no matter how good it is.

Secondly, Rainer takes us through the basics of "signs and sites." On signs, we need to look from the point of view of visitors. We need to make it as informative as possible and as clear as possible for people. Sunday School times and directions should be provided. Just because we are familiar or we feel our Church is easy to navigate does not mean visitors feel the same way. Even the front door is crucial. On websites, we should try to make it visitor-friendly, giving them as much relevant information as possible. Third, he takes a look at the safety and cleanliness aspect. He uses this to hone in on expectations; our church members' own expectations. If we don't expect new people to come, we would not bother about making our own church facilities look more welcoming. This is a powerful insight indeed. He even suggests letting insurance requirements guide us in designing a safer place for worship. Rather than to see their additional requirements on our church as a bane, use these guidelines as a boon to make our Churches safer. From decluttering to providing sufficient garbage bins; restroom cleanliness to paints; if we take pride in our own church building, it will translate into a pleasant atmosphere of welcome for our guests. Fourth, he zooms in on the greeters, the welcome center, and the welcoming church. While everyone ought to do their part in greeting newcomers, there is a place for persons trained or focused on basically greeting guests. A great tip offered is the strategic locations for greeting. Looking beyond the sanctuary and the refreshment room, he points out potential places such as the parking lot; the door entrances; the roaming greeter; and others. Having a welcome center is a must. Finally, Rainer gives us a strategy to become a welcoming church. This is a must-read portion for anyone desiring to make their churches more welcoming. For me, this chapter is worth the price of the book.

My Thoughts
In this day and age, we are faced with an unprecedented mountain of challenges with regard to making the Church welcoming. By default, society in general has become suspicious of anything linked to an institutional church. We cannot turn back the clocks on history. At least, we could stop it from getting worse and to begin sowing the seeds of welcome for anyone visiting our churches. Through this book, we are reminded about our blind spots, especially the one that presumes our churches are already friendly enough. Worse, we think erroneously that friendliness to one another is the same as being friendly to strangers. People do feel left out when church members are too busy with their own cliques. This applies also to fellow church members who don't bother to reach out to the quiet and introvert ones. Then there are body language that makes visitors feel unwelcome. The author helps us see other challenges that range from a poor public website to boring church services.

On top of that, there have been many negative experiences by visitors to churches in general. This book helps us do three things. First, it helps us do an honest self-examination and evaluation of our own churches. Second, it points out the many different ways to understand what a welcoming church ought to look like. Third, it shows us a way forward to build a welcoming church now. What we can do is to move forward with grace and hope, with willingness to turn the tide one person at a time beginning with ourselves. This is an excellent book for enabling churches to grow, one guest at a time.

As President and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, Rainer has published books about the leadership and health of the Church.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of B&H Publishing and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment