Some churches might be mean and petty, but most churches aren’t. And yet if we’re not careful, we can dig a wide moat around our church family to keep outsiders out all the while declaring “Guests Welcome”. How do churches do that? Here are three ways we unintentionally exclude those we’re called to embrace:
1. We assume people know the Bible. It’s those quick references and off-hand comments that can scream loudly that outsiders are to remain outside. Church people are born and raised learning the basic stories of the Bible. But that pool of people is quickly shrinking. So when we reference stories like David and Goliath or Jonah and the Whale or Daniel and the Lion’s Den, we can’t assume that people actually know those stories. If we quickly reference them or gloss over them and move on, it belittles those who don’t know the stories but are afraid to ask. A few days ago I was praying with a recovering addict who requested prayer, and I wanted to share some inspiration from Peter’s life. I asked if she was familiar with the life of Peter in the gospels and she said she didn’t know anything about his life. You can’t assume anything.
2. We prejudge people for not holding to a standard to which they never agreed to keep. I see this all the time. The sideways glances and silent glares from church people when a guest walks in that doesn’t look like a church person. And church people know because church people have a specific look. And if a guest walks in looking un-churchlike, the judgment begins. Perhaps it’s the tattoos, the biker leather jacket, the ear gauges, the shorts, the backwards cap or the spiked hair. We need to remember that it makes no sense to judge a non-church person for failing to hold to the standard set by church people, a standard they never agreed to keep. That’s why they’re guests. And if they’re excluded instead of embraced, that’s why they’ll never come back.