“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
John 15:15 NIV
Friendship matters. There is supposed to be a sense of greater connection, proximity, awareness, trust, and shared story with those who use the label “friends” to describe their connection. Jesus made the distinction between people who may fulfill objectified roles and those who are drawn into a confidante, partnered, companioned relationship.
In my Wednesday pastors group, we recently talked about the importance of friendship as a key ingredient to authentic discipleship. We were reflecting on an article published in the January 2022 online version of “CHURCHLEADERS” magazine. You can find the amazing article here: https://churchleaders.com/outreach-missions/outreach-missions-articles/379774-the-lonely-crowd-churches-dying-due-to-friendlessness.html. The article is entitled: The Lonely Crowd: Churches Dying Due to Friendlessness.
Turns out that church health, vitality, and growth is directly related to the nature of our friendships in and off campus. People might return to a church (for a brief season) if they find it friendly, but they will only stay and imbed if they make and become friends with the family. Friendship is crucial. It paves the way for feelings of safety, belonging, identification, ownership, and celebration of a unique group or entity as being “theirs!”
But frequently, the experience many newcomers have is quite the opposite.
Church people are often not curious about newcomers. They barely reach out to strangers in their midst, ask far too few questions of engagement, and tend to stick to their trusted and well-known in-house flock from many years. We live in a very poorly connected society. Many walk around crowds but are very lonely and isolated. The church is supposed to be the perfect and safest family to experience belonging, significance, fulfillment, and value. But often, newcomers can feel lost and alone in a church that is not their own. Many who feel like strangers are “better off” leaving so they don’t have to feel that feeling anymore.
I want to call the OHFUMC family to ENGAGED ACTION! Relating to all people matters. We need to be much more curious about people. We need to ask a lot of questions from fascinated and celebrative interest in people’s lives and stories. We need to work the room on Sunday after church. We need to invite people we don’t know to gather outside of church for social and spiritual engagement. We have to become less busy with our lives so we can have more time to invest in their lives. We need to learn to listen more closely, learn more accurately about people, and engage them more frequently when they return.
The onus should not be on strangers to make themselves feel at home among us. I am asking that every attender sees themselves as an on-duty-hospitality-greeter for our church family. Let’s all excel at the art of cultivating curious, invested, engaged relationship with the long-term and the brand-new among us.
“It takes a village” – African Proverb
Pastor David 😊