The Dreaded Welcome: Rethinking the Church Meet and Greet

   

Last week, we talked about the Church and how it might be failing you and the people around you. I implored you to be a part of the reconciliation process allowing for Christ to be the Head of your life, and your Church. However, one thing I have begun to realize is that it is easier said than done, especially considering the fact that some of you may not even have churches anymore. So I think we need to go step by step. We need to work through that reconciliation process together and what better way to start than with the welcome time.

How many of you have walked into a Church dreading the “welcome time?” You get a burning in your chest from the anxiety. You don’t want to shake hands or say, “Hello.” You want to worship, listen, and leave.

Have you ever wondered why we feel this way? Why do we feel awkward? Is it because it is forced? Is it because it feels fake? Is it because we don’t like being told to do something that causes us to go outside of our comfort zones? Obviously, for each individual there is a different reason why we dread the welcome time.

Personally, I was a hater of the welcome time because it felt forced, and because it quickly showed me how small my Church family had become. I also hated it because when I was a visitor, no one would say anything past a hello and their names. So to avoid it altogether I would go to the bathroom or sit in my seat and play on my phone.

Then I moved to Peru and my hater heart was changed in a single palpitation. Why? Well, our Church does not have a welcome time, our service is a welcome time. Culturally, the Peruvians are a “warm” people group. We kiss each other on the cheek. We hug each other. We shake hands and are genuinely glad to meet one another. People look each other in the eye, and express appreciation for each other. They ask each other how they are doing and they mean it.

In some ways I am painting a perfect picture, but generally, this is our Church life. We still fail in some ways, but as long as people are an hour late and we make it a point to still say “Hi” to them… I think we have the welcome “time” down pat.

After this change in my walk with Jesus, I really began to ask a lot of questions. Why is there such a difference between my experience in Peru in comparison to the US? Is it my heart? Am I that disconnected with the concept of loving my neighbor? Have I forgotten these holy welcomes are a form of worship in and of themselves? Would God not smile if I took the time to invest in others instead of half-heartedly clapping my hands to a song I don’t even like that much?

Have you noticed, for some churches this time is so awkward they have stopped doing it altogether? They would rather avoid the wall instead of breaking right through it.

I want you to look at how Paul welcomed or greeted the Church through letters:
“3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
—1 Corinthians 1:3

From Romans to Philemon, he starts his letters with this type of greeting. In some of them he first testifies to whom Jesus is, but then greets them with grace and peace. Can you imagine if his written words are this way, how he was face to face?

As I said last week, even in the broken churches full of sin he was trying to reconcile the damaged parts back into true fellowship. For example, in the text of 1 Corinthians Paul completely berates the Church, and look how he ends it:

20 All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.21 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. 22If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.
— 1 Corinthians 16:20-24

I began realizing why there was such an emphasis on greetings and warmth. I believe it was because of persecution. Sure their culture is a “warm” culture, hence the kisses. However there was more going on in their social setting. As Paul wrote these greetings people were trying to murder him. He was in prison for preaching the Truth of Jesus Christ. Likewise, the Church was being persecuted by many for what they believed. Tomorrow truly was not a guarantee for these Church members.

A welcome was a reflection to each other that they were going through the same things; that they were brothers and sisters and they would walk through this life together. Paul was showing Christ’s reconciliation to the broken churches because he knew from Christ’s teachings the body of believers must be relational. Paul understood God designed us to be relational and He designed us with the need to express those relational feelings. Where was his proof?

Well, when the body was functioning correctly these Christians became so enamored with Jesus, and what He was doing amongst them, they were selling everything and living together (Acts 4:32-36). After they had to scatter, when Peter escaped from jail in the middle of the night, he found his fellow believers praying together in a house (Acts 12). Paul even talks about the yearning he had to connect with the different churches (Romans 1:11). These are signs that even in our disfunction, Christ will make us function.

So our welcome time can be a time of dread. However, it can also be a time to begin to connect and restore your Church body. If you sincerely and genuinely welcome those around you, people may look at you weirdly at first, but I am sure they will catch on to your warmness. Make it a point to seek out those that seem lonely. Ask them who they are, and mean it. Maybe invite them to lunch, and get to know them. It is exact situations like this that change the Church. It’s those seemingly inconsequential moments, that save lives, save souls, and edify the Church Body.

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