There is no doubt that a welcoming face is the start of a good relationship between a visitor or a regular and the rest of the congregation of a church.
A friend of mine once experienced at one church a terrible welcome – dour faces gave her the service books and as she sat down, someone came to tell her that that was someone's seat. She moved to another seat – the same happened again until a woman guided her into a 'vacant' seat – but my friend by then was nearly on the verge of rushing out of the church in tears at such treatment and the experience certainly spoilt the service for her.
Again, I had occasion to visit two cathedrals. – the first I visited 'welcomed' me on entry with roped barriers and two modern computer cash machines and a list of quite high prices. I duly paid for my ticket, at the bottom of which was written 'Thank you for your custom – Please call again'!!!! Shades of Asda and Tesco's. After a walk around, I left what I felt had become a dead secular shell, and there was no feeling of holiness. It was almost like a museum in which there took place a form of Christian practice – it was a place which had made me feel drained, saddened and dispirited.
The second cathedral in a neighbouring diocese was totally different. As one entered, there was a welcome so wonderful it was as if I was a long lost friend who had returned. I wasn't asked for money (even though I found out later that the running cost is some £800,000 per annum). I was given a guide leaflet and then, if I had questions, I was able to ask a very knowledgeable gentleman who told me all I needed to know. But perhaps the most important thing I experienced as soon as I entered was the wonderful feeling of spirituality, as if the Holy Spirit was greeting me and wrapping Himself around me. I left that place feeling wonderful and spiritually greatly uplifted.
The foregoing demonstrates how important the ministry of welcoming at the church door is. No doubt everyone has entered a strange church and has been gladdened to be welcomed and literally offered the hospitality of God's house. There are many reasons why people no longer attend a church, but the lack of hospitality is probably one of the most important reasons. Being welcomed into a happy family atmosphere is heart warming and infectious. The trouble is that many forget that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all members of one family – no matter what we look like and no matter whether we are rich or poor.
I leave you with a couple of thoughts. Firstly, the writer of Hebrews (Chap 13, v.2) warns us – 'Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares' – both at church, as well as at home.
We might be rich, or we might be poor,
We might be short, or we might be tall,
We might be fat, or we might be thin;
But really all we are
Is what God made us – within.