So you’re a Christian church goer.
The sign on your church says “all are welcome” and you take great pride in telling people about your church, and inviting them to attend.
When they arrive, you have greeters and hospitality teams who run right up to them, making sure they know the sign was right– they are welcome.
You say you welcome all, and you do.
And yet, with all the great pride you take in welcoming everyone, you have overlooked a tragic flaw:
You welcome everyone, yes, but once you get to know them, you also unwelcome some.
You find ways to make it clear that all are welcome to come, but not all are welcome to stay.
Maybe it’s was because you found out they had some differing beliefs than yours, and you either didn’t know how to embrace the tension of being in relationship and worshiping with people who thought differently than you, or you just didn’t want to. Perhaps something about them rubbed you the wrong way; maybe they just didn’t seem to fit with the group as it was before they were joined, or maybe there was subtle conflict that you didn’t work to resolve.
So, you unwelcomed them.
Maybe you weren’t as direct as walking them to the door and asking them to leave, but there are a thousand different ways to flash a bat-signal to someone and say:
You’re no longer welcome in this group.
And so, eventually they picked up what you were laying down. Eventually the discomfort grew too much, the progressive rejection stung more and more, and they left your church– just as you secretly wished they would, even if you didn’t admit it to yourself.
Life went on, and you were right back to celebrating the fact that your church means it when they say, “all are welcome” as if you actually meant what it should mean.
The fact that you don’t lose any sleep at night is probably because you don’t know the rest of their story, and I for one certainly don’t expect you to.
They just left. They were unwelcomed. They disappeared, just the way you wanted them to.
But I wonder how you’d feel and sleep if you were to know their full story? Let me tell you about those people you unwelcomed from your church:
You should know they had years and years of church trauma before they ever walked through your “all are welcome” sign. In fact, the first time they attended your church they nearly had a panic attack in the parking lot, but they knew they had to push through it. They knew they had to try again– they just had to.
You should know they were absolutely desperate for friends– they really didn’t have any– and they were so hopeful in you. The way you welcomed them gave them hope for the first time in years; they were so effing scared to embrace it, but they did. Because of that, they pushed through their resistance, their wounds, and their inner walls, and began to believe that maybe this was the positive turning point in life they had been waiting for.
While you grew to have issues with some of their differing beliefs, you should know that before they ever attended your church, they already knew you wouldn’t agree on everything– and they were okay with that. They were okay with you. And when you welcomed them and became friends with them, they thought that you were okay with them, too.
You should know that after years of sadness and pain, their faith was withering. On day 1 at your church, they had already felt like they might be at the end of a journey, instead of at the beginning of one– but they didn’t want to give up. Not yet. They were desperate to experience the love of Jesus, desperate to find even a sliver of something to hold on to– and you were that hope.
And then, you unwelcomed them.
You should know that out of all of their church trauma, this one was the most devastating. The others hurt, yes, but this one came after deliberately taking a massive, vulnerable risk that required them to let their guard down even when they didn’t feel completely safe doing so.
You should know that neither one of them attend Church, have a supportive Christian community, or even close, intimate Christian friendships, because they literally don’t have what it takes to risk and try again.
You should know that right after you unwelcomed them, they experienced a tragic life event where having Christian community would have been a life saver. Instead, they grieved alone in the dark corners of their house, and no one saw or cared about how lonely and hurting they were. No one ever checked in on them during their time of need– your “hospitality” team was too busy shaking hands under the “all are welcome” banner.
You should know that they didn’t have what it took to hold their faith together. They didn’t stop believing entirely, but they stopped practicing in any meaningful way– not by choice, but by brokenness and pure emotional exhaustion. In fact, a full six months had gone by before they even realized that they had stopped praying a long time ago.
Oh– and you should probably know that they didn’t stay together. They tried as best they could, and knew that having supportive Christian community could have changed everything, but after you unwelcomed them, what was left of their marriage just fell apart piece by piece. There wasn’t any singular event to blame it on– it was just death by a thousand cuts, and your unwelcoming of them was one of the bigger ones.
The day that they worked up the courage to walk through your “all are welcome” sign, they knew they needed you even if it was hard to admit out loud to themselves. They knew that if their story could find healing, that somehow, someway, you would play a part in it.
You should know that you gave them their last sliver of hope, and they nervously held onto it– until you yanked it out of their hands.
How will the rest of their stories be written?
But you should know that they are unlikely to ever try another church again.
And if they did, instead of an “all are welcome” sign, they’d be searching for one that read, “no one unwelcomed.”
Of all the things you should know about unwelcoming people from church, here’s what you should know the most:
Sometimes when you unwelcome people from your church or Christian community, it’s a bigger deal than you think.
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With the title, it says Couple. What about the single individual? I have never been married and I have gone to church by myself for many decades. It’s very much the same treatment I get when I try churches out. There were times when I settled for a while in a church and never made any connections.
I admit that I have social anxiety among having depression and anxiety. So it isn’t easy for me to warm up to strangers. So that puts me in a disadvantage.
I’ve been a the hunt for a good church for a number of years and still looking.
It would seem that you are taking it upon yourself to believe that the ‘you are welcome’ also implies you are welcome to come and preach differing views that contradict what we teach here. ‘you are welcome’ can simply mean you are free to come visit and learn our things according ot the Bible. That means that even those who don’ tagree but want to hear are free to come in an dhave a seat so long as they don’t mean to rock the boat.
And interestingly enough you didn’t mention what brought on this ‘church trauma’ from the other churches the individual/s were at. But you did manage to mention they had differing views and things like this. And who did you so slyly put the blame on in the end? That’s right, he church. No man, it isn’t the church in those instances. It is the ppl living in opposition t Scripture that want righteous ppl to accept what is wrong. But of course you didn’t really share those points so this ultimately is a matter of emotion beating pl into a false responsibility and guilt of something they aren’t even responsible for.
Seems to me you are the very person Ben just described that unwelcomed the couple. I’m sure as hell would not feel welcomed in your church after what you just posted.
Help me with a definition of “unwelcome.” What does it look like? Some examples, please.
When you sign up to join in on activities and nobody calls you, or if you show up and basically nobody acknowledges you because it’s an “in group” thing. Or you go to coffee hour after church and nobody speaks to you. Every single one of these things happened to me in the last 5 years.
One last thought and I’ll stop hogging the blog. To Benjamin’s article above, I think of Jesus’ words: “… I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink…” we should not turn each other away…
24 A man that hath friends, ought to show himself friendly: for a friend is nearer than a brother.
I wonder sometimes (I’m just exploring this idea) if our failure to accept each other “warts and all” isn’t evidence in a way of a certain privilege we have in the West – the privilege of not facing persecution. I was briefly involved with an ecumenical mission to the arab world (based in the Lavant) where – especially in some of the Gulf states – being openly Christian could get you expelled or worse. This seemed to focus the attention of the missionaries on mutual support, authentic relationships as believers in Jesus and encouragement – a shared purpose – rather than the infighting, doctrinal nitpicking and bigotry which so easily corrodes community. I pray to God that it will not take persecution for us to love and respect and welcome eachother as sinners in need of grace – in spite of our differences. I challenge myself on this too, as even on this blog I’m tempted to squabble rather than to seek Christ in my fellow bloggers!
Benjamin Corey, as I read this, I was hoping to find some definitions around the ways we can “unwelcome” people–and the the contrasting descriptions of how we can make sure they stay welcomed. Just how do we make it clear that someone is not welcome? It seems to me that the people in their comfortable little groups are not likely giving any thought to this at all. As you say, they are sleeping very well at night, and have no idea what these “unwelcomed” people are going through. I’ve been a believer and regular church attender since a young child, but just as the people you’ve described in your article, I’ve had to push myself and be very vulnerable. I served in so many way in so many churches, and yet today, at 70 years old, I have no real friends. I have been, and remain uninvited. The marriage eventually failed. It’s more than I can bear sometimes, now, to sit in church alone. No one cares why. They don’t want to know. It’s not pretty, so if they do learn why they will likely slap some verse on me, implying that I was just not spiritual enough, thus bringing the problems on myself. Sadly, the church is no different from the world in this way. It is much more like that high school clique than what the scriptures tell us to be. Thank God that He Himself is faithful! His people, called by His name, often do not represent Him well.
In my twenties I went to the ecumenical monastic community of Taizé in France. Incredible example of openness to people of diverse beliefs (Catholics, Protestants, atheists, seekers and cynics). Brother Roger, the founder of the community, simply delighted in engaging with those who came, embracing the diverse people as bearers of the image of Christ. Through prayer and listening, authentic mutual acceptance, contemplation and plainsong, the eucharist, through silence and fellowship, through openness to diverse experience, the place represents for me still a remarkable picture of how the church – the gathering of Christians – can achieve beautiful things.
3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Just a thought at this point. The Greek word for church is Ekklesia – an assembly of believers (rather than the building, the pews, the altar) and therefore this site itself may be regarded as an extension of the church, albeit a cyber-assembly…
Is anybody else disappointed with the new “look and feel” of the Patheos website?
I used to be able to see the most recent comments on Dr. Corey´s blog. No more.
Am I missing something??
Sadly, lots of churches are just places where folks go to get their “feel good” on for the week. Social clubs masquerading as churches behind some preaching, singing, and wobbly teaching. Bring the money, talk the talk, fit in, or be cast out. Been there, done it, and decided to go over the wall on my own. I can only imagine the wagging tongues and shaking of heads that prompted. :>)
Sometimes judgment does come upon a church for wrong attitudes…
A pastor I know was looking for a building for their new growing church in a European city I shall not name. They found an old church building for sale and approached the elders. They asked why it was being sold. The elder said it was ‘Ichabod’ (the glory has departed) over the door. They had planned a ‘mission’ to reach out to the community and invite people in, but one elder leading a group towards a very low-class housing estate stopped, telling the group “No! We don’t want those people in our church!”
The elder told how, since that day, not one visitor crossed the door of their church! It just dwindled in numbers and died.
There was a time in South Africa when being black meant you could not attend the “white churches” of certain Christian denominations. A ‘parable’ was going round at the time about Jesus, who on coming to such a church, found an old African man sitting outside. He asked why the man wasn’t inside with the congregation, and the old man replied, “I have been coming here every Sunday for the past twenty years, but they won’t let me in.” Jesus nodded knowingly. “Take courage,” said Jesus, ” I’ve been coming here for the past forty years and they won’t let me in either.”
This exact thing happened to my wife and I. Once the church members knew what town we were from, everything turned cold. We were in the very next (not so pretty) town. I honestly felt we were from “the wrong side of the tracks.” That hit us hard. It was like being back in the cliques of high school.
I feel there is a large chunk of Christians who feel disenfranchised in this way in large part because they fall somewhere outside of traditional denominations. Too liberal for fundamental churches, but too fundamental for liberal churches. It’s fine to disagree (I went to a church where very few of us agreed on much more than the basics) but for whatever reason, many American churches have got it in their collective minds that somehow total and perfect harmony in theology and personal morality is a requirement for fellowship. It sucks, plain and simple. And we wonder why there are so many echo chambers…
Thank you for this article, Benjamin. My family prays for yours every day. Be well.
A very well written article. Your words are so true. I don’t attend church for this very reason. You can’t be different or ask too many questions.
What a depressing Christian bludgeoning site. So many Christian bashing articles and so many willing to bash Christians and their churches.
Back in the 1950s, my mom visited a church in Ohio (she didn’t say which one), and the people there stared at her as if to say, “What are you doing here?” She didn’t go back there. They didn’t unwelcome her. They didn’t bother to welcome her in the first place.
Mom did eventually go to church with some friends a few years before she died.
Been there too many times, and only recently too. Went to the main church in our region. Walked through the door. No welcomers bothered to speak to me. I am not even sure who they were, except their names were listed on the leaflet for the day’s service. Many people looked at me then deliberately turned their backs. I’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t know most of them. I was hurt that those few I did recognise didn’t bother to come and say hello, or even smile. After the service, I waited in the hall for 10 minutes, while others wandered around me chatting and getting their morning tea. It was as if I wasn’t there. I came away feeling empty.
Thankfully, the next week, I returned to my small church congregation in our little country town, was met with joy, as I am each fortnight, as are all our newcomers … we are a loving group, and after 20 years outside of churches, after so many ‘ignores’ or ‘rejects’ over those years, it felt like coming Home to walk in the first time, a bit over a year ago. Yes, I think differently to many of them, but they accept my ‘weirdness’ (my word, not theirs), and they still Love me. And I am a ‘stranger’ in this town, only been here five years, you have to be born here to belong .. but thankfully those with that attitude, although most of them were born here, don’t go to my church.
God bless all who look for God in empty buildings full of people who call themselves Christians. I think they’ve forgotten what Jesus said. “Love each other as I have loved you”.
Day by Day,
Love & Peace
Going into a church to “find friends” is mistake number one.
Go into a church to serve….not to be served. Then…who cares what some socially inept evangelical “Judeo-Christian” thinks of you.
People are weird…me included…
Deal with it….
I would really like to know what “unwelcoming” looks like. I am being serious. I’m the pastor. I don’t know if this is happening or not, but I sure hope not.
Me too. Specifics, please. Example: Couple attends, we visit at coffee, good vibes. Send personal note during week. They return. Another coffee visit with invitation to join choir or other activity. They disappear. Personal letter receives no response. Were we just not the right place for them? Did something happen that we who have pondered this did not see?
Church trauma? Been there. Several times. I’m there now. I’m done. Thanks for this…