This week, I was in and out of about 50 different church offices. My friend and I were delivering information about The Apprentice Gathering, and annual conference put on by the Apprentice Institute at Friends University. Our job was to drive around town to each church on our list, go into the office, and deliver a mug filled with candy and information about the conference to the pastor of the church. Pretty simple. For most churches, we were in the building for 5 minutes maximum.
I learned a lot about American church culture in the three days we spent driving around, and I was shocked by what I found.
As an unexpected visitor, I felt incredibly unwelcome overall.
Almost every church we went to had their front doors locked with a buzzer system to get in. Some of them even had a two-way mirror on the doors, so that any visitors were unable to see inside. I know that these are safety precautions, but to me, what they said was "Go away. We don't want you here." I'm not saying that safety isn't important. What I am saying is that locked doors and two-way mirrors don't really preach the love of Jesus.
Once we were inside the buildings we would walk into the main office and usually talk to a receptionist. We would tell her (every single one was a woman) that we were looking for the pastor/reverend/father and explain that we were from the Apprentice Institute. At a few of the churches, we were welcomed with big smiles and the pastor would come out to speak with us immediately. At a majority of the churches, however, she would look at us curiously, ask if we had an appointment, and, when we said no, she would either let us speak to the pastor's secretary, or she would take the mug and promise to give it to him/her.
What's the big deal about that? The pastor is probably busy and doesn't have time to talk to strangers. Right.
The way I see it, it's the pastor's job to talk to strangers. We weren't asking for an hour of his/her time. We weren't even asking for 30 minutes. We just needed 3 minutes to explain the conference and hand the guy a mug full of candy. Somehow, though, 40 out of 50 pastors were too busy for that. They were writing their sermons and "not to be disturbed". Sometimes we weren't even given a reason we couldn't see whom we were looking for, we just weren't allowed to.
People: This is not what the Church is about. This is not what Jesus calls us to.
This mindset of being "too busy" or not wanting to talk to people because you don't know them is the narrative of this world. The call of Jesus is pretty clear: live with Him in the Kingdom right now. That means taking five minutes to talk to a stranger when they specifically ask to talk to you. It means making visitors feel welcome in the church anytime, not just on Sunday mornings when it is convenient for you. It means putting your own comfort (in the form of locked doors and two-way mirrors) aside to make others feel loved.
This is not some sort of do's and don'ts list that I think churches need to follow. This is somewhat of a gray area. We do live in this world, and sometimes we have to run by its standards. Safety is important. Getting a sermon written is important. But when those things get in the way of loving others, they are no longer important. Our churches need to stop running like businesses. We are not in the business of conversion. That is not our job. Our job is to preach the Gospel.
St. Francis once said, "Preach the Gospel wherever you go, and, if necessary, use words." If we were doing more of that (letting our actions speak louder than our words) maybe this wouldn't be such a problem in our local churches. If we were more concerned about loving people than about spending exactly 15 hours a week writing a sermon, maybe visitors would feel a bit more welcome, and maybe our churches would be busting at the seams.
But that's just one girl's opinion.