Must a Church be Friendly?

by Mike Duran · 33 comments

I recently noticed that the employees at my local Home Depot had handshake_1mysteriously become much more helpful. “How are you this morning, sir? Can I help you find something?” The first couple of times, I did a double-take. Is this Home Depot? I later discovered it had something to do with a new CEO who was attempting to overhaul the HD image. Well, in my neck of the woods, it’s succeeded.

When it comes to sales, being friendly is essential. When it comes to churches, I’m not so sure.

There’s lots of reasons people do not attend certain churches  — style, doctrine, demographics, location, etc. Unfriendliness is one of those reasons. As a pastor, I learned that visitors often judged my church based on the “friendliness factor.” Were members courteous? Were they helpful? Did they recognize visitors? Did members introduce themselves to newcomers and make an attempt to “connect” with them? These were some of the criteria “church shoppers” looked for.

Most churches respond by posting Greeters at the entrance and asking folks, during the service, to take a few minutes to hug, high five, or mingle with the people around them. Cool. But unlike a business, a pastor cannot demand that his members be friendly. And really, what kind of friendliness is coerced? Besides, we shouldn’t base our entire perception of a church upon the few people we happen to come in contact with. Churches are made up of lots of different people in varying degrees of maturity. Nevertheless, if a visitor sits between two bores, well, there’s a good chance that church will get branded as “unfriendly,” and they won’t be coming back.

I’m thinking about this because, after about 8 years, we have started attending a new church. I’ve commented to my wife, several times, how “unfriendly” this church is. I’m saying it semi-sarcastically, partly because of all the times I heard it as a pastor, and partly because it’s true. You see, no one has really gone out of their way to befriend me and Lisa. Does it bother me? Nope.

So am I suggesting friendliness isn’t important? Not at all. I make a habit of being friendly at least once a week. Kidding.

Churches are supposed to cultivate and demonstrate the love of Christ; to preach the Gospel and make disciples. Jesus did not tell us to “Go ye into all the world and make friendly people.” However, if we are doing what Jesus wants, it stands to reason that we will be friendly and make friends. So at some point, if a church is doing what it should, its members will be moving up the scale of “friendly.”

But churches are strange animals — an amalgam of young and old, well-to-do and down-and-out, saved, unsaved, and totally confused. On any given Sunday in any given church, you will find the talkative, the self-centered, the moody, the nit-picky, the wounded, the envious and the insecure. I mean, there’s no telling what kind of person may land next to you. All that to say, if my neighbor’s unfriendly, I don’t take it personal. Cuz I’m that way sometimes too.

It’s one thing to leave a church because they preach false doctrine. It’s another to leave a church because they’ve got a few snobs.

Maybe it’s wrong, but when I hear people say they don’t attend a certain church because it’s “unfriendly,” I can’t help but see it as an excuse. It’s an excuse to NOT get involved, to NOT open up, to NOT make yourself vulnerable. It’s an excuse to NOT make friends. I mean, if all you’re after is friendly people, then go to Home Depot. But if you want humans, then go to church.

So, yeah, I attend an “unfriendly church.” However, it’s only as unfriendly as I let it be…

Ben H July 2, 2009 at 1:30 PM

Agreed. If we worried more about ourselves and less about others, the church would be a friendlier place. the problem is everybodys waiting for the next guy to smile and say hello.

Ame July 2, 2009 at 3:28 PM

i think friendliness in church is often superficial, as you've pointed out.

but i also think there's a balance between the movement of, "we will not contact you. we will not invade your privacy," and that churches care. my girls and i went to a church for about a year, and i made many phone calls to get the information and get us plugged in. not once did they call me unless they were returning my call. so when i discovered my daughter's fifth grade class was regularly having weekly socials and not inviting her, and they stopped their preaching pattern to pick and choose scripture to support what the pastor wanted to do next, i just couldn't go back. it was more the latter, for i could have been, yet again, proactive on the former. still, i didn't want my daughter going into bible class on sundays and listening to all the kids talk about what they did together during the week, knowing she wasn't invited. and by not-invited … there was no announcement of any kind, written, electronic, oral, that was directed in such a way we could have found out about them. i discovered the outings when i happened to click on one of the many general church emails that i received and read through the whole thing (it was buried in multiple things in the email).

i don't think they meant to be 'unfriendly' or uninformative. i think they believed they were doing things right. it just got to be such a chore to find out any information, to find out if we were invited to anything i heard about, and then to invite ourselves and find out what to bring … and being a single, divorced mom at the time, it was too much.

i don't think church should necessarily be 'easy,' and i hate the term 'user-friendly' for a church, but there has to be some kind of balance.

and back to 'friendly,' … when a church is too friendly, they come across as fake. when the staff and core people seem to genuinely care about people in general (not just catering to a few) i think that comes across over a period of time … and then they might get the label 'friendly' … but perhaps 'genuinely caring' might be more appropriate.

frankcreed July 2, 2009 at 5:04 PM

Where did you find the pic of theused-car-salesman lookin' guy in the oversized paisley print jacket? Now that I've insulted him, you'll tell me he's your brother. Some levels of friendly should scare people away! 8D

Mike Duran July 2, 2009 at 11:36 PM

Frank, that's the Lead Greeter at my church. Doesn't he make you feel more… comfortable?

Ame July 3, 2009 at 5:42 AM

just as long as he doesn't get my address or phone number 🙂

Kaci July 3, 2009 at 11:31 PM

Just to flip it a little bit, I was always the kid who assumed if I didn't get a formal "Hey, you wanna come?" offer I wasn't invited. Our youth group was big, social, and liked to do things in packs, and they found out my sister, myself, and another friend of mine weren't coming because we thought they weren't invited. The group felt really bad and after that made a point to let us know what was going on and where to show up – even offered rides.

My only point is, I had a great youth group. They weren't being rude; they just didn't realize there was a problem until it was brought to their attention.

RJB July 6, 2009 at 1:55 PM

I was told by a few family members that visited my church that it was unfriendly. Ha, I guess I should take it as a compliment.

No seriously, Christians are told to be loving, but not necessarily friendly. And sometimes the two are opposite of eachother. Its not very friendly to tell someone their lifestyle choice is sinful, but it is loving to do so.

Mark D. July 6, 2009 at 10:47 PM

It's a mixed bag. I attend a small church and we have to make a conscience effort to be welcoming but not intrusive (and it's a very fine line between the two). I think a lot of people attend large churches so that they CAN just blend in the crowd and not connect. They want to observe anonymously. When my family attended a large church we felt lonely. We tried to connect but couldn't. We moved on to our church home, but I think others just drift away.

Neesa February 21, 2010 at 3:05 PM

I was pleased to find this commentary because I have been struggling with this issue, now, for years. I am not a social person. I have a very limited circle of intimate friends and must, to survive, keep everyone else at a safe distance. I am unable to handle the pressure and expecations of surface relationships, so instead of an outer, inner and inmost circle, I maintain only an inmost circle and everyone else is just people I know.

I too have noticed the change at Home Depot — and, frankly, it annoys me. If I want to be talked too, I'll see out an employee. I'm not there to socialize, I'm there because I need a plumbing part.

neesa February 21, 2010 at 3:05 PM

For years, I have felt the same way about attending church. I've been a believer and followe of Christ for 35 years. In that time, I've always been an active member of a local church. For social reasons, I chose the largest church I could find — easier to be anonymous in worship. I have never gone more than a season without being involved in a ministry role in some way — whether it was teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, or serving on a committee. Sometimes, my roles have been very high profile, and I have always maintained positive interaction with the pastorl staff of the 3 churches to which I have belonged. In every case, I changed churches because of a geographical move. Though there have certainly been times when decisions were made that I didn't agree with, I don't see that as a valid reason for giving up on an organization.
But here's the rub.

Neesa February 21, 2010 at 3:06 PM

I hate attending worship.
I honestly cannot remember a time in my life — even from chidhood, when I didn't feel like I had to drag myself to church on Sunday morning. Now, to be fair, I have had several TRUE worship experiences — an Isaiah 6 kind of thing –where the glory of the Lord filled up the temple. And it is for that which I hunger. Frankly, the 'greet your neighbor,' and 'don't get out of here without hugging someone' neck,' culture of the modern church gets in the way of the Seraphim and the Cherubim singing the glory and majesty of God. Notice Isaiah didn't mention that the guy sitting next to him shook his hand when he arrived at the church that morning, or that the welcome hymn had a profound impact on him.

Neesa February 21, 2010 at 3:06 PM

To make matters worse, the culture has now swung so far in the directon of 'people need to connect,' and 'the secret to evevangelism is small groups,' that it's almost impossible to get out of a worship service without feeling like you've been called to the principal's office if you don't feel the need or desire for a large circle of people.

I heard one very prominent pastor remark that 'he's never known a believer who can point to a time in their life when they were growing and moving deeper in their relationship with the Lord unless they were involved in a small group." Um. The two richest spiritual times in my life were months spent in solitidue where I could dig deeply into God's word and not be distracted by the demands of life.

Neesa February 21, 2010 at 3:07 PM

Don't get me wrong. I believe in the church. I believe that Jesus established the church to fulfill the work of the kingdom on earth. I absolutely believe that we cannot accomplish all the tasks God has for us without the community of the church. In fact, I believe that God created Eve not because God wearied of fufilling Adam's need for fellowship and communion, but to help Adam get his work done. Work is done more pleasurably and more rewardingly when we have a person with like-calling to help accomplish it.

What I do not believe is that the sole purpose of the church is to connect people. In fact, I would have to say that I don't believe that's the purpose of the church at all — it is merely a benefit, not a purpose.

Neesa February 21, 2010 at 3:07 PM

Recently, I spoke with a friend about the decision I have made for the past 6 months not to attend worship at our church. Her initial response was, "oh, well, if you're not getting anything out of it, then you should find another place to go." No, God's not telling me that. After we talked for a while, I told her that I do not feel that the enforced 'friendliness' of our church's personality is an appropriate place for hurting people. You cannot go to our church and simply throw yourself at the foot of the cross where you cling frantically to the soldity of it and hope to survive the storm, because while you're in the midst of that, the usher wants to shake your hand. She made an interesting statement ot me — "Worship is intended to be a celebration of the believers, and no, if you're not in a celebratory mood, then you're really not going to feel comfortable because you're asking m to come down to your level of anguish."

Neesa February 21, 2010 at 3:07 PM

Hmm. Is that why I've been feeling the way I do? Is it because for me, a Worship experience is about confronting and being transformed in the confrontation of God's awesomness and fearsomeness and not about telling Him I love him? It's not that I don't love Him, it's just that I don't find it worshipful to tell him that. I find it, well, something else. We talk about that in prayer, He and I.

And yet, do I know that there is irrefutable proof that some people — perhaps even most people — respond well to the Home Depot type environment. Well, if it exists in our corporate for-profit world, then, arguably, it works for someone. And so I am left, cast adrift on an iceberg of solitude where I, alone, or at least, alone in my circle of acqaintances, seem to find the socialness of church an irritant, a distraction, and, sometimes, down right off putting. Good thing, I guess, I'm pretty comfortable floating on that iceberg. And if I could just tune out the cacaphony of name callers and critics who claim that friendlessness is the key to salvation, I could commune in peace with the Lord.

Sam December 16, 2010 at 9:45 AM

It doesn’t sound like you need God but a psychiatrist. Sounds like anti-social personality disorder to me. Someone like yourself would probably just be better off watching church services on TV at home “alone” since you claim that is how you like to “roll.”

Kathy August 4, 2012 at 2:37 AM

We need to understand some personality traits, is all…We need to use the skills and personalities God gave us to attempt to connect at a deeper level with those who we worshiop with. We are a family in Christ, and we need to get to know our family in meaningful ways. People with all personality types should strive to connect, to know, to be involved in, the lives of his/her extended family in Christ. And to trust God to do the work! Not going at all is not an option that honors God.

Laura November 3, 2010 at 11:17 AM

I think it’s up to the leadership in a church to make members feel welcome. My mom and I had been going to a church for two years. We enjoyed worshipping the Lord but there were several incidences with leadership where they showed bad manners. (I.e., invited to my mom’s surprise birthday party accepted then declined 3 days beforehand with an excuse of not remembering a committment). Then meanwhile, the pastor’s sister who also is in leadership just did NOT bother to reply to the invite.

At the church picnic while I engaged in activities my mom being older sat alone. One other new person and her sat for awhile. The other person mentioned how they just said “hi” to someone and they didn’t respond. The same person who let her try out for the Worship music team and said they would get back to her and never did. Earlier at church that day I gave some gifts to the pastor’s wife and she said I’ll open them with you at the picnic. Even though I saw her I felt it was for her to approach me…. she didn’t mention it at all. Wasted words. Enough of the fake friendliness and bad manners for me… on to a new church.

Why not approach the pastor and his wife and let them know how I feel? Well, there have been other issues with the pastor “arguing” with church members, and church members leaving. I feel you know when you are blowing someone off and saying things that you don’t mean so I don’t need to bring that to their attention, they already know it.

I realize people make mistakes but I don’t appreciate being taken for granted. I don’t go to church to make friends but if I don’t respect the people leading the church I have no business attending services.

I’d like to know what you think about this situation?

Jeff January 30, 2011 at 6:49 PM

I didn’t know that Porter Wagner was a greeter.

I am currently “kicking the tires” and looking for a “church home”. I hope that people will at least acknowledge my presense. They don’t need to be my pal – just introduce themselves and say “hi.”
What is fake is when they make the rounds during the “meet and greet” and greet visitors as fast as they can – and barely make eye contact as they move to the next person.
But, what if I come back the folowing week? What is being communicated? I might be wanting to make more contact. How long do I keep going until I welcomed or invited to attend something?

Greeting times during the service are interesting. Often, people greet the regular attenders they know, and walk past you. Later, they will tell yothers how friendly their church is.

When I am visiting I feel like I am entering a new school or a club. I need a few people there to help me by breaking the ice, because I am in an awkward moment. Have you ever gone to a reception or friend’s company party and then your friend immediately walks off to say hi their buddies, leaving you standing in a corne?

John March 6, 2011 at 3:33 PM

I could write a James A. Michner size book about this topic, but will only put a small portion of it here. I am one of the most active members of a church of about 600 members. About 98 percent of the members never say a word to me, even though they speak to and laugh with others who are very near me. I like others have mentioned dont want or need fake friendliness, but simple acknowledgement that I am a living breathing human would go so far, yet I usually dont get that either. I will write more later, my wife is calling me to go get in the car and attend a small group which is someone’s home where they talk about computers, video games, and movies, or Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, World of Warcraft, occasionaly we have an incredibly short devo so that we can finish that and get back to long conversations about I-Phones and WII, and sports and I sit and listen and can’t wait to go home. I love God, but I find myself hating Christian people, not all of them, just most of them. they simply seem not to take an interest in me.

Ben August 31, 2013 at 6:55 AM

Ditto. However, God used the same kind of situation in my life to teach me something: He has to put up with the same shunning. Try to comprehend how it hurts God when He tries to call us close, and we turn Him down (via compartmentalizing Him) because something more convenient or attractive is set before us. It’s sad, because the people who are shunning you are shunning God (to a degree) as well.

Leila June 22, 2011 at 9:15 AM

Oh I’ve experienced the shallow conversations too John, but in a choir scenario – usually about the sending of texts and tweets, I-phones, tv, sports, bitching about other people when one is passed over for a solo in favour of them, whether so and so happened to breathe wrongly in their general direction (which would warrant an extra-special bitch-fest) and so on and so forth. I can’t listen to it and I jam my Walkman headphones in my ears prior to practices, I don’t even try to join in such a conversation – but I WILL appreciate it if someone has something interesting to say…it is definetely certain types of people that are shallow and I think it’s a matter of avoiding them and sticking around the ones that are a bit more interesting – as they are around, you just have to look about and maybe steer the conversation in a more interesting direction yourself (force it if need be). It takes an elephant hide to survive in church and I also think that what you are experiencing is a reflection of today’s society – we probably just expect more from churchgoers because they are “supposed” to be”better” than other people – but they’re really not – it’s just a club under a different name LOL 🙂 . It’s very important to stand up and be counted. I contribute occasionally but it is important not to try “too hard” or care “too much” because face it, nobody else does!! Like you I tried to be friendly but my emails/ invites were almost NEVER replied to, so I just bother with the people OUTSIDE church and in other social groups who actually DO bother about what I have to say and don’t try too hard at church. It’s as simple as that – you can only offer so much.

Daniel July 10, 2011 at 1:42 PM

This is something I’ve dealt with for a while myself. My father was a minister growing up and our denomination required moves from time to time and sometimes more than we cared for. In that time I found myself having to readjust to learning new people and ways of life, etc. The churches were (and are) generally the same. Some of each group in every church. But the older I get the less enthused I am about doing this process over and over again.

Now that I am an adult, my wife and I move fairly often with work. We have found, what I think is a nice enough church, but at times it seems a bit like a clique or a family unit that I am outside looking in. I know a lot of this is personal insecurities, but the reality still exists. Some members are always friendly, but don’t really go beyond good morning or how are you. There are times I don’t care and other times it grates on my nerves. Should churches strive to be friendly?

Ultimately, I think yes. I can agree with the original posters points. Its not necessarily the role of the church to be friendly and people are people. But as a church, if one wants to grow, and even if not, I think its imperitive to reach out to everyone, not just those that make themselves known. I don’t think its a total cop out to say a person that complains about an unfriendly church simply is making excuses. In the end, I won’t to feel like I am part of a church home and not another outsider. Much of it is my responsibility, but church members have their’s as well.

Reaching out to all should be part of the churches duties. If they don’t want that outreach, fine. But if they do, its a good thing. To simply just carry on business as usual and expect any new faces to fall in line or leave is the real cop out in my opinion.

Cloey August 11, 2014 at 2:14 PM

I agree! We’ve seen several “longtime attenders” and families leave and barely a ripple runs through the core of the church.

Kaliki Ano April 24, 2012 at 3:45 PM

Not sure which is better weird & friendly or seeker-friendly-bland & unfriendly. We live in a very friendly town; the church is 50 degrees cooler as far as friendliness goes than the town. The new pastor is great; the last was a crabby & burned out. It has been a while and there should be a change in atmosphere if the reason for the reserve was the former pastor. It makes me wonder if there are some beliefs or teachings, that put a damper on people that are not known to the uninitiated. It could also be that staff that were with the old pastor keep the mood from changing. Can one young pastor change the atmosphere of the church with all the old staff still in place? Or perhaps we should opt for weird, but friendly?

Goosie May 29, 2013 at 9:29 AM

I grew up in a Baptist church that was like a home and in which the pastor was a secondary father to the congregation. That’s what I still want — and I’m lucky to get it from my choir director.

I started going to my church (smallish Baptist) because I wanted to sing in the choir, which is directed by a dy-no-MITE teacher, friend (to us all) and shepherd (yes, shepherd). The choir welcomed me right in, and I’ve come to care so much for them that I consider THEM my actual church and the director my actual minister. The choir is an actual ministry unto itself, and it reaches out beyond itself. The group as a whole demonstrates the warm end of agape not only toward its members but to the community. At every rehearsal, we report on people who need prayer or direct action. The director then leads us in warm, fervent prayer and gets us to work doing something about those people whom we actually can help. He radiates the best of Christian love, and we bask in it. I’d take a bullet for him!

The pastor of the church is just his boss, with all the personality and warmth of a piece of baloney fresh from the fridge. Other people have commented on this. Most of us, after all, did grow up in small, warm-hearted southern churches. I realize that this may be a mild mental health issue for him, since he’s southern, too, and has without a doubt experienced the love and warmth of a good church family. We all have our demons forking away at our hearts. Maybe this is just one of his.

It just now occurs to me that I can/shall pray for him.

Cloey August 11, 2014 at 11:02 AM

While I agree with your post, in general, I disagree from a personal perspective. My husband and I and our three children have been attending, serving, teaching, and even on staff at the church we have been members at since 2008. During that time we have driven ourselves almost to a frenzy trying to meet all the needs that were presented to us. Although we are reliable members, we have never felt like “part of the fold.” This church is full of cliques, most of which were well-established long before we stepped foot in the door. Regardless of the hours we spend in the various roles we’ve taken over the years, we can’t seem to be quite interesting enough for most of the long-time members. We’ve both grown quite bitter about our experience. Once upon a time I attended to find some godly friendships. I think my husband would agree. We’ve both grown closer to God through our time here. But after six long years of fighting to be included, feeling overlooked and ignored, we’re ready to move on to a church home that won’t swallow up our family Monday through Saturday and then ignore us on Sundays.

Wanda Crawford August 11, 2014 at 11:26 AM

Brightest blessings to you, Cloey. I hope you will find a church where people actually love God. Jesus said that whatever we do to the least, we do to Him. When folks at church cold-shoulder others, they cold-shoulder Jesus.

Cloey August 11, 2014 at 1:59 PM

Thank you, Wanda.

L November 2, 2014 at 3:41 PM

Just today I went to the early morning service at a church about
15 miles from home. I had been to that church before, a handful
of times. I am an early riser and prefer to go to an early service.
I attended another church for almost 2 dozen years and decided
to look for another when the sermons started getting unbalanced
and I started questioning the validity of some of the sermons,
according to scripture. I loved my former church family but
could not stay under the circumstances. In the church I attended
today the preacher seems to stay in line with the word, but the
congregation as a whole is SO snobby. There is no passion that I
can see, except maybe one or two in the congregation. The worship
is annointed, yet the people seem to be unreachable. It seems to be
more of a social club than a church intent on following Jesus.
It seems like the majority don’t bring their bibles to church. This
is a non denominational bible believing church. They say they
believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, yet I’ve never seen them
being used in any of the services. The greeters ambush you at the
door, hand you a pamphlet of some sort and then ignore you
as soon as church begins. I’m tired of the old “hug your neighbor
and tell them how much you love them…”. It makes me very
uncomfortable to do that with strangers. I too think Christians
should make more of an effort to truly make new people feel
comfortable, without being phony. If you are new to a congregation,
people will literally turn around and stare at you without so much
as a friendly wave. I’m sorry but I feel the church is so far from
what God intended in the first place.

3luna3 May 13, 2015 at 12:27 AM

I dont agree I feel a church should mirror christ as best as It could ,God Is love ,and If his house Is filled with unfreindly christians then how could the love of God be shown to the world? to have freinds one must show himself freindly.I along with my family have been visiting this church for over a year ,and the pastor have yet to speak to us the church Is small so we are not getting lost In the crowd they have very few members I have yet been made to feel welcome In this church by the pastor , some of the members are freindly.The saints are supposed to be show hospitality.

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