I have helped churches strategize and set vision for the future. Part of that process is to do a self-evaluation. Almost without exception a church characterizes itself as friendly. Yet as a visitor I don’t always feel the love when I first arrive. As a visiting speaker, I’m obviously the stranger but it is common for people to walk right past me… often looking the other way to evade eye contact. I don’t think I’m really that scary looking. Though that might be part of the problem, I wonder if there is something else.
Some people are naturally gregarious…. they never meet a stranger. The rest of us have to be trained to be friendly. Yes, trained. There is nothing in us that compels us to want to walk up to a stranger and meet them. We feel awkward. We don’t know what to say. Our insecurity pushes us in the opposite direction of someone we don’t know.
Pastor, your church is full of people like me that will not be friendly to new people unless you train us. We need coaching on what to say. We need practice on how to look someone in the eye as we shake hands. We need instruction to make this a priority. We need to be taught about the importance of a smile and a conversation.
One of the idiosyncrasies of American church is to stop everything in the middle of a service and have people shake hands with everyone. That practice is a little odd. Friendliness cannot be programmed. That doesn’t count toward the “friendliness score.” It is artificial and everyone does it because it is expected. It is a superficial way to compensate for lack of friendliness before and after the service. Even if people do shake hands during the service, they often don’t know how to do it.
If people have a problem being friendly in a safe environment like a church building… how friendly are they outside of the church? If they don’t initiate conversations among believers, they probably don’t do that with non-Christians. That could be one of the reasons for lack of evangelism for your church. Could it be that Christians are just not friendly? So whatever evangelism training you do… don’t forget the training for friendliness.
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