|t was a bridesmaids’ weekend not too long ago. A dear friend was getting married at the end of the summer, and to celebrate, all her bridesmaids (minus two) went away for a short vacation. We picked a convenient location and got a great place to stay.
We had a gorgeous suite in a fabulous hotel and spent quality time shopping, eating, napping, hanging out by the pool, reading fashion magazines, etc. It was a true girls’ weekend. On Sabbath, after waking up and eating breakfast in a poolside cabana, several of us decided to find a local church and go to the service. The hotel concierge helped us get the address and we handed it to our cabdriver and set off.
The “closest” church was about a 20-minute drive. We found it without difficulty and entered the packed sanctuary a few minutes late. About 15 minutes before the service was to end, my friend slipped out to give the cab company a call to let them know we’d need to be picked up in 20 minutes—as our driver had instructed us to do.
Church ended and we wandered out and found a shady spot on the grass smack dab in front of the church, near the parking lot, and clearly visible to everyone around. And we waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, our cab showed up (after 40 minutes, which allowed nearly everyone from the crowded church to clear out). We went back to our hotel to meet up with the other girls and enjoy the rest of our day.
End of story? Not really.
The preceding scenario wasn’t described just to let you know that we went to church in the middle of a bridesmaids’ weekend.
I hope you caught on to something.
When we entered the church—a group of strangers to this congregation and far from home—we were handed bulletins. That was it. Once inside the sanctuary, we stood around for a while trying to find seats, unassisted by a deacon or elder or any helper for that matter, until someone in a nearby pew scooted over and made room for all of us. Once the service ended we stood in the lobby for a few minutes and were approached by no one. Then after, as we perched ourselves prominently on the church property—again, a group of unfamiliar faces standing around in the heat—no one came by to find out who we were and what we were doing.
The sad truth, however, is that this incident isn’t isolated.
How many of you have found yourselves in a strange city on the Sabbath, seeking the blessing of a worship experience and fellowship of like believers, visited a new church, only to feel as if you shouldn’t have bothered coming?
We have to do better.
No visitor—believer or not—should set foot inside an Adventist church and walk away untouched. Someone should find out where they are from. Someone should chat with them while they wait for a cab. Or here’s a novel idea: offer them a ride somewhere.
At the very least, every unfamiliar face in our church should receive a warm smile, a nod hello, a wave. Something.
Because our churches—where people come one day out of the week to honor the Sabbath and learn of their Savior—shouldn’t be the types of places where a friendly welcome to a stranger is unusual.
Here’s a call to action: amp up your welcoming and greeting efforts in your local congregation. Get a group together and divide your church layout into sections. Assign people to sit in certain sections with the sole purpose of locating unfamiliar faces. The objective of a given Sabbath service is to make sure you make contact with a new person or persons. Visitors shouldn’t leave without face time from a member, because making our churches welcoming, friendly, and warm should be a priority.
And if your congregation is already doing that and you cringed while reading about my experience above, keep on keeping on. From the bottom of my heart, I commend you.
Roll out the welcome mat now, because I fervently believe Jesus wouldn’t have it any other way.
Wilona Karimabadi is the marketing and editorial director for KidsView.