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.
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.