“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:8-10)
When someone visits Creekside, I ask the same question, “Did you feel welcomed?” and I regularly hear specifics about the great welcome they received. I love that about our church. We are a welcoming church.
I am sure that this does not surprise you. We know we are a welcoming church. If you have been at Creekside for any length of time, you likely have experienced that welcoming and the love of our community coming alongside you. New people and “the old guard” both experience the welcome of Creekside. But what about the “’tweeners?” What about the folks who are new, say in the past few years? Do they feel welcomed? Until last week, I would have said yes; we are a welcoming church. And then I had two unrelated conversations in the same day that challenged my assumption.
One person shared at coffee that they spent a great evening with a Creekside family and were so thrilled because “it was the first time someone had reached out to us for something that was not church-related.” “Hmmm,” I thought. Later that day I had an impromptu conversation with a person who has been at Creekside longer, but less than two years. Without prompting, they shared about the great people they got to know over dinner the night before. “Wow,” I thought, “people are reaching out, awesome.” But then, not in a complaining way, but in a surprised way, they shared, “It’s odd, this is the longest we have ever been in a church without having anybody other than the pastor invite us over.” “No,” I thought, “You don’t understand, we are a welcoming church.” They assured me that they loved Creekside and were not complaining, only that they had been talking about how odd it was. I thanked them for sharing and apologized, assuring “That is not who we want to be, we really try to be a welcoming church.” My heart sunk as I heard their reply, again, not as a complaint, but as their experience, “Oh, you are … on Sundays.”
My first response: “Oh no, kill me now.” And then I thought, I need to share this with the church, not as a judgment, but because I think Creeksiders will be surprised. Surprised in the way we are surprised if someone tells us that we have a trail of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of our shoe, that our zipper is down or we have something just outside our nostril. “Oh, that’s embarrassing, I wish it were not true, but I am glad they told me.”
I welcome this feedback because we are a welcoming people, a community that accepts people where they are and welcomes them into our journey of ordinary people living the extraordinary way of Jesus. But life can get busy; it’s all we can do to keep up with existing relationships. We love the intimacy of our small group that has walked with us through personal and church challenges, we can think we are living out welcoming community, until someone says, “Um … you have a little something there on your nose.”
Now, maybe these two conversations are not representative at all of your experience. Maybe you are very welcoming. Great. Keep it up. But what if these two conversations actually are sharing important feedback that, while embarrassing, we really do want to know? Because one thing I do know, we are a welcoming church, and maybe, just maybe, we just need a reminder from time to time.
Doug can be reached via email.