As I said, I felt welcomed among the folks there, and even felt at home. I have thought much about that this week. That is one of the attributes I most admire about Fellowship. We are a compassionate congregation that seeks to make everyone feel welcomed in the services. Really all churches should be known for their hospitality and welcoming spirit, but sadly that isn't always the case.
I had been a member of my home church for over twenty years when I started pastoring, so you could safely say that I was used to a certain way of doing things. I was used to the people I worshipped with, and really never imagined being asked to leave Bethel, but God had other plans. As my family and I have followed the leadership of the Lord, we have worshipped with several congregations, some of which we knew nothing about prior to attending for that particular service. We have been in churches where there was not a familiar face to be seen. I suppose we may have a bit of an advantage since I was there to preach for them, but there is always a bit of anxiety going into a church for the first time. Most of the churches we visited made us feel welcomed and at home, but that wasn't always the case.
As I pondered these thoughts, I was reminded of the need for the church to go out of their way, making a special effort to make visitors feel welcome. In fact, we shouldn't treat them as a visitor, but rather a guest. A visitor is someone that stands on the porch, but a guest is invited in and made welcome. I really believe that many folks desire to attend church, but have a hard time finding one where they feel welcome. Wouldn't it be awful to attend church, week after week, and never really feel as if you belong?
Now I know a certain amount of responsibility rests on the individual, but unless you are a particularly outgoing person, it is hard to take the initiative in an unfamiliar setting. We all could assume if they want to feel at home then they need to get involved, but we must not neglect our responsibility of greeting them and letting them know we are honestly glad they attended. A warm smile and a kind word will go a long way. In fact, it may make the difference in whether they choose to come back for another service.
Having said all of that, I would like to challenge you to make a point to speak to a visitor on Sunday. The Lord has blessed us with several visitors as of late, and we have tried to make them feel like a wanted guest. Most of them have come back several times since their initial visit. Hospitality may not have made the difference, but I can promise you it didn't hurt!