When Welcome isn’t Enough

Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you.
I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.”
(Matthew 4:19 The Message)

A couple weeks ago I was looking back through some of the old newsletter articles I’ve written. I came across one where I talked about the difference between welcome and invitation. As I read the words, I was convicted. Partly because I didn’t follow through on what I had intended to do, and partly because I believe the idea of invitation is even more important now. So, I feel it is important to revisit the topic.

In that article I committed to working toward a modification of our statement of welcome that was more than welcoming, it was inviting. I failed at that task. But, that may not have been a bad thing. You see, I believe I struggled to find a way for the opening of our worship service to be more inviting, because the invitation to worship happens well before 10:30am on Sunday morning. If we are to be a church that is more than welcoming, we simply have to invite others to join us in worship, in fellowship, in study, and/or in service.

I do want to be clear, being inviting is not a replacement for being welcoming. We must be both welcoming and inviting if we want to grow into the community of faith God intends for us to be. Yes, that growth is in numbers. But I believe, more foundationally, that growth is to become more Christ-like in our dealings with one another, and with the world around us. Which is why I began this article with the passage from Matthew, where Jesus invites the disciples to follow him.

Jesus doesn’t simply welcome the disciples to follow him. He actively asks them. Jesus doesn’t say, “I’m showing people how to fish for men and women. If you’re interested, you’re welcome to join me.” He is much more direct. “Follow me,” he says, “and I will make you fish for men and women.” That is a powerful, self-assured, and confident invitation. Are we inviting others to come to worship with us, to participate in our fellowship activities, to come to Bible studies, or to serve with us at Bread of Life? Are we inviting others in  our lives to meet the one who transforms us? It’s not easy, but I truly believe it is essential for us (both as individuals, and as a community of faith.

But, what about that welcome that I said was still important? Imagine what it would be like if you invited someone to church and they came and didn’t feel welcome. That would have to feel terrible. And I know it happens. I’ve visited churches before and KNEW that I wasn’t welcome within moments of walking through the door. No one talked to me. No one introduced themselves. It was uncomfortable at the least, and could have turned me off to faith in general. It’s not about being inviting OR welcoming, it’s a question of how we can be BOTH inviting AND welcoming!

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