Book Review: Becoming a Welcoming Church
Becoming a Welcoming Church, Thom S. Rainer. Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2018. Hardcover, 101 pages.
Come with me for a moment to visit two Reformed churches. Both of them are faithful churches in the sense that they have gospel-preaching, faithful administration of the sacraments, and church discipline. But we’re going to have vastly different experiences at each one.
I’m the guest-preacher at the first church. After the service is over, I stand for a few moments at the back of the building. All the members gather into their holy huddles. No one speaks to me. After a few moments of standing there awkwardly, I get in my vehicle and just drive away. If that’s how they treat a guest-preacher, I wonder how they would treat a complete stranger?
With my wife and children, I’m a visitor at the second church. I’m on vacation. No one at this church knows me from Adam. As we arrive, someone warmly greets us and shows us in to the sanctuary. During the service, one of our children acts up (pastors’ kids!) and afterwards we’re in no mood to stick around. We make a bee-line for the door. As we’re out in the parking lot sheepishly heading for our van, someone comes running out after us. A friendly voice beckons, “Hey, please stay with us for coffee so we can get to know you! We’d love to have you come back in.” We apologize and explain the situation with our kids. But it leaves an impression…a good impression that we’ve never forgotten.
If you were a complete stranger in Jerusalem, to which church would you want to return?
That’s what this book is all about. It’s about becoming that church which puts its best foot forward before, during and after that moment when guests walk through the door. Thom Rainer is an experienced consultant and researcher in this field. He’s written numerous books in the same vein, explaining how churches can do better at engaging guests.
I know what some readers may be thinking. You may be thinking that this is all about becoming “seeker-friendly” or overhauling everything in our worship services just to accommodate non-members. Definitely not! Rainer discusses little about what goes on in worship itself. In fact, the only thing he really mentions is a practice that most Reformed churches don’t do anyway: the stand up and greet your neighbour moment. Instead, this book is first of all about addressing our attitudes and then, second, about everything that goes before and around the worship service: the website, church signage, greeters, etc.
What I appreciated most about this slim volume is its emphasis on how being a welcoming church is related to the gospel. The hospitality mandated by Scripture is our thankful and loving response to the gospel. But also when we are welcoming, it serves the cause of the gospel.
Since so much of it pertains to decisions made by those in leadership, this would be a great little book for consistories to discuss. As Rainer points out, many churches believe themselves to be more welcoming than they really are. This book will help churches to get to the truth — it includes two resources in the back which also serve that end: a Church Facility Audit and a Secret Guest Survey. Once you get to the truth, you’ll also find some help here in how to improve. It’s jut a small book, but it punches far above its weight. Check it out.