Sticking with being a welcoming church

There’s been a post on another blog that has been doing the rounds over the last week or so which really made me think. Indeed, I lost count of the number of times I saw people refer to it on Facebook and every time, it made me think some more.

It was entitled: “We will no longer be a welcoming church” and it can be found on the website of Robert Moss, who is pastor at Lutheran Church of the Master (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) in Lakewood, Colorado.

You can probably see straight away why it grabbed my eye. The slogan we’ve been working with since I came to St Mary’s is “Open, Inclusive, Welcoming”. It is one of those claims that is easy to make and harder to live up to. If you say on every bit of paper that you ever produce that you are welcoming then that has to be backed up with some sense of reality. However, St Mary’s generally is a friendly place and I find that lots of people who come do find it very welcoming. That won’t be true for everyone of course but it is true more often than not. Being in Glasgow makes it easier to be a welcoming church of course. When folk round here are not trying to murder you they are the friendliest people in the world after all.

Generally speaking, I can see what Robert Moss is getting at when he says that it is time to stop focussing on being a welcoming church in favour or thinking about being an inviting church. However, I’ve a feeling that the whole “inviting church” thing may be in danger of putting the cart before the horse.

I used to think that what we needed to do was teach people how to invite people to church. That’s the essence of so many worthy church growth strategies and mission plans. It is at the core of the much-lauded “Back to Church Sunday” initiative and is at the heart of what is up to.

It isn’t just them, it is lots of people. The theory is, if you can teach people to invite people to church then they will do so and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

I used to think this was the answer but I don’t any more. I’ve become convinced that if you want people to invite others to church you’ve got to begin by giving them something really great to invite them to. The thing is, if what you are offering is on the button, you don’t need to teach anyone how to invite people to church. They’ll do it anyway. Indeed, if they are having enough fun, if it meets their spiritual needs, if it is a place they have a chance of making friends, if it teaches them something good about how to live in this crazy world and make sense of it then they won’t be able to stop themselves. They’ll invite people anyway.

We don’t need to teach people how to invite others to church. We need help congregations to become such that people will do it anyway.

The trouble with things like Back to Church Sunday is that it invites people to come back to something that they probably had good reason to leave.

Let quality, friendship, love and joy loose and you don’t need mission plans. And within that vision is a taste of heaven.

So, good luck to the Lutheran folk in Lakewood, Colorado. I hope the initiative works. For now, here, I think we need to stick with being a welcoming church whilst working at being a church which is a barrel so full of delights that people can’t stop themselves from sending those Facebook invitations, tweeting those tweets about what their church experiences and from gossiping that they’ve seen the church, that which they thought was dead, alive and dancing.

(And before anyone starts wittering about cathedrals, resources, & congregational size, this is exactly what I tried to do in a much smaller church than I work in now).