That’s what we pay the church staff for … right?

When I visit a church for the first time and want to learn about the faith family I’m about to walk into, sometimes I initially hold back from interacting to see if people in the congregation will welcome me.

It’s sad to say that many times I can get in and out of a church without a single church member (other than paid staff) saying a word to me, unless they’re instructed to do so.

It happened again this past Sunday. And at a church I like.

I parked my car, and as I walked toward the door of the building,  an assigned greeter took aim at me and had his hand out before he reached me. Okay, it’s his “job” to greet people, but at least no visitor was getting by without a warm welcome from him.

I stepped inside the door, and the man who handed me a bulletin didn’t say anything to me.

I looked around for a minute, walking by church members talking in circles with each other, then made my way into the sanctuary where, before I could sit down, the worship pastor greeted me. I had a delightful conversation with this guy, and after leading worship, he came out and sat by me.

I sat there for a few minutes just reading the bulletin and updating Twitter (purposely looking “alone”), when I was finally greeted by a friendly lady who walked up, introduced herself, and talked for a minute. I would later learn she sings with the worship team … and is the pastor’s wife.

No one else spoke to me before the service began. A few minutes into the service, at the direction of the Associate Pastor telling everyone to greet someone they didn’t know, I finally had a few church members say hello to me.

After service, I again looked around for a few minutes, then made my way upstairs for a cup of coffee, where I would have a time of very enjoyable fellowship with the pastor.

Then I left.

The only time a non-staff person (other than the assigned greeter) spoke to me during my visit was when everyone was encouraged to greet someone. I’m certainly not picking on this church, as this experience plays out in many, many churches every Sunday.

I did this on purpose to get an initial sense of this congregation. I could have changed my visit dramatically if I had been myself and initiated interaction. But here’s the greater concern for the church at large: If Christians are reluctant to say a word of greeting to someone visiting with them, what’s the likelihood they would engage in conversation for an opportunity to share the Gospel with someone outside of a church service?

It’s not likely to happen.

But sometimes it does.

One of the churches I enjoyed fellowship with while living in Hawaii was very different. On my first visit, I was immediately greeted with a lei, and then multiple hugs (whether I wanted them or not!) before I could ever step into the church building. Once inside, several church members came by to introduce themselves and welcome me.

Would you be surprised to know that church is a growing church?

People know when the paid staff are “doing their jobs” and shaking hands with the visitors, and they also know when the members are walking by them — or sitting all around them — without saying a word to them.

How could that make them feel anything other than unwelcome or uncomfortable?

Is your congregation welcoming people into their fellowship? Are you? Or is that someone else’s job?