For the introduction to this series, click here
When I think about the face of the church, what it looks like, and how it presents itself to its members and to the community in general, I like to think of two levels: the level of personal interaction and the level of external presentation. These aren't scientific, sociological, or demographic distinctions, they are merely my attempt to categorize what I've observed in my limited study of local churches.
Today, I want to look at the personal interaction. In my opinion, this is the most important piece of the portrait of the local church.
Personal interaction is vital to the portrait of the local church. How a congregation relates to one another and to those who are visiting speaks volumes about the church. In an attractive church, people are talking to one another, there are lots of smiles, and handshakes, hugs, and high-fives are being exchanged. People seem genuinely glad to see each other. It looks a lot like a family reunion, full of folks who have been apart for a week and can't wait to get caught up.
|Image Credit: Western Saloon Clip Art from VECTOR.ME|
This warmth comes across in how visitors are treated. Have you ever watched an old western movie where the hero walks into the saloon and the piano suddenly stops, poker players put their cards down and stare, and the barkeep nervously wipes the counter? Though not quite that severe, I have been in churches where a newcomer is treated like "the visitor (cue dramatic music)." The members were polite, but guarded, conversations ceased, and there was an overall formality in place. I'm sure if you asked its members, they would all describe their church as friendly, but the truth is, they were friendly to one another, but not necessarily to the stranger in their midst.
Contrast that with the church where a visitor is given a warm (but not overwhelming) welcome. A church where the newcomer doesn't have to guess where to go or what to do, because one (or more) of the members are right there to walk them through it. Oh, and these members aren't necessarily serving in an official capacity, they're just being themselves.
Obviously, this warm, inviting atmosphere has to start from the inside. The church is made up of Christians: men and women who have the Holy Spirit living inside and therefore, have a genuine faith that manifests itself on the outside. This is cultivated by deliberate fellowship, prayer, and solid Bible teaching. It also comes from the realization that we are all on a faith journey, meaning that I have struggles, you have struggles, we all have struggles, so let's help each other along.
Now because we are human, no church is going to display the warm, caring, friendly, joyful attitude one hundred percent of the time. But as the old saying goes, if someone is looking for a perfect church, they shouldn't join because they would ruin it. But since the church is comprised of people, this level is important to emphasize, grow, and develop as the local church presents itself to its community.
Unlike its secular counterparts, the local church does not grow primarily through advertising or programs. It grows through people...people sharing their lives, sharing their faith, and living it out on a personal level.