During the year of 1987, Sue Ann and I were between ministry positions and so we decided to visit churches in our area. The Dallas metroplex offered many choices and so this was a unique opportunity to see how different congregations “did church.” Since we included a variety of denominations among the churches we went to, it was an eye-opening experience. Some worship practices were very different from what we were used to. After a while we settled down to attend a church which, surprisingly, was outside our denominational backgrounds. What drew us to this congregation were its meaningful worship, solid biblical preaching, intentional evangelism, and personal warmth.
One of the disappointing discoveries we made during this time of exploration was how many churches we visited paid little attention to us. In some cases no one spoke to us at all. It is not surprising, then, that the church we chose was one which had demonstrated genuine interest in us.
I realize that it is easy to overlook the new person. When we have grown up in a church or have settled in to a circle of church friends, it is much more comfortable to associate with them than to reach out to someone unfamiliar. But therein begins an unhealthy pattern—focusing inwardly.
Can we not rise above what comes naturally and develop an eye for the new person? After all, is this not what the Lord Jesus calls us to? “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4) There is so much at stake.
Put yourself in the shoes of the middle school girl who attended our Extreme Camp. She walked in alone and it was quite apparent she did not know what to do or where to go: her body language shouted uncertainty and discomfort. After a few awkward moments some folks got her situated. Or consider the Sunday morning guest who, after worship, makes his way through the crowd in the lobby to the exit doors seemingly unnoticed.
Granted, sometimes we just do not see the new person—we are looking in another direction and he may pass by before we can respond. That happens. But why don’t we make it our personal goal to be on the lookout for guests? Let’s tune our radar for the unfamiliar face and reach out warmly to that person.
Oh, and let’s not leave this to our Host Team to take care of. They are doing a great job of connecting with new folks on Sundays, but they cannot do it all and welcoming guests can be the goal each one of us owns.
What is at stake? A guest takes a great risk entering an unfamiliar place. They are stepping outside of their comfort zone because something has stirred strongly enough within them to help them face down their fear. They are at a point of decision, at least regarding whether or not they will ever return. But on a far deeper and more significant level they may be at a crucial point of decision regarding where they stand with God. How God’s people respond to them may very well shape the decision they make.
Jesus calls us. Much is at stake. Will you join me in cultivating an eye for the new person? Let’s look out.