Group Publishing found in a recent survey that out of a sample of 500 Christians and 259 non-Christians, only 16 percent of respondents reported that church was the "friendliest place in town."
We've all been there. We're in the church foyer before Sunday morning services talking to friends, when a new person walks in. Whispers of "who is that?" ensue as we all watch the official greeter lead the person to the guest book. When greeting time comes during the church service, we might shake a visitor's hand, but that is not the time to establish conversation; it's too noisy.
A few Sundays ago, I was in the ladies bathroom at church washing my hands when a new person walked up to the sinks. She smiled at me and I smiled back. I finished washing my hands and left. Why didn't I speak to her? I guess I was too busy thinking about my own issues.
According to a recent "State of the Church" survey conducted by Group Publishing, conversation ranks fourth in the top five most important factors that make a place friendly. Number 1 was "making me feel like I belong," second was "making me feel comfortable," third was "making me feel at ease," and fifth was "smiles."
The survey found that out of a sample of 500 Christians and 259 non-Christians, only 16 percent of respondents reported that church was the "friendliest place in town." This figure was sandwiched in between home as the friendliest place at 35 percent and a restaurant or sports bar at nine percent.
In the "friendliest people in town" category, close friends came in first at 70 percent, family members were in second place at 65 percent and in third, neighbors at 15 percent. Co-workers came in fourth at 12 percent. Pastors and priests ranked fifth with 10 percent of the vote.
After reading the results from the poll, I wasn't surprised. I've been to many churches in many cities throughout the United States and I have not found any church overwhelmingly friendly. Unfortunately, most people have to have a reason to speak with someone and Christians are no different. Our quandary is that not only that our social culture expects more from us, but Christ's teachings demand more from us.
Jesus said that people would know that we are his disciples by our love for each other. In the church I've noticed that a lot of Christians just plain don't love fellow believers, much less non-believers. If we truly love our fellow believers, the love we have will spill out onto the rest of the world. We won't be able to contain it. We won't want to. Jesus didn't contain his love for all of us, and he did not differentiate between believers and non-believers. So why do we?
As a Christian myself, I'll be the first to tell you that I don't have this love thing down, but I'm trying. So maybe next time, I won't be so concerned about me. God help us all.
Alicia Gossman-Steeves writes for the La Junta Tribune-Democrat in La Junta, Colo.