Did you know that there is a difference between being a Friendly Congregation and a Welcoming Congregation? For some, it might just be semantics but others will point out the difference. Almost every congregation is friendly. Friendly is sharing feelings with those you already know. It is pretty easy to be warm and accepting to the people you already know or with whom you have some connection. If you look, act, dress, and speak like me, it is easier to be friendly.
Our Guiding Principles do not state that we strive to be a friendly congregation. They state that we will be an Inviting Community, Welcoming Everyone. Welcome goes beyond opening up to those we know or who share a lot of similarities. Welcome is sharing hospitality with a stranger – sometimes even people who are very different than ourselves. Welcome is making sure the physical setting is warm and easy to navigate. Welcoming is letting those who come do so on their own terms while still making the visitor know that we are glad they have come. We watch that we don’t overwhelm but that we do extend ourselves. It isn’t unusual for a guest to be a bit shy. They may not be quick to greet us because that could be uncomfortable and we have to gently take that first step . A new person might stay for coffee but maybe they need to wait a few weeks for that step into the fellowship hall.
We also want to be an Inviting Community. This takes us to the next step where we reach out into our neighborhoods, and to our co-workers, fellow students, and even our friends to invite them to something that is happening here. You might ask them to join you for a small group activity, or a Bible Study, or dinner with church members. It doesn’t have to be only Sunday morning. How might we be inviting others and not just waiting for people to walk through our doors on their own?
We are now at one service. You might not know or even recognize several people. It is just fine to introduce yourself, even if they are a long-time member! Additionally, as we prepare for a new pastor, as we meet those from Lutheran Church of the Master as they seek their next congregation, and as we greet visitors, we each can examine how we are openhearted. We want to be a Welcoming AND a Friendly congregation. Each of us has a role in making that possible. Blessings to you as you embrace your role as God’s ambassadors and welcome all!