For the last two weeks, Donna and I spent time on a rest and study retreat in the Hill Country of Central Texas. Because of the rainy spring and early summer, everything is green, wildflowers are plentiful, and all the lakes and stock ponds are full to overflowing. We watched the sun set every evening over the hills and waters surrounding Lake Travis.

During our travels, we were going from one small quaint town to another. Along the way, we saw a big sign proclaiming all the benefits at stopping at a small town we had never known existed. I was interested in taking a peak at this special, nicely advertised town. However, when we went through the town — really, "went by the town" would be more accurate — not much was there. A few houses and a post office in the middle of nowhere was pretty much it.

On our return trip by this little town, I decided to pay a little more attention. A city limit sign said that the population was 111. I noticed a few more very small houses off the state highway. Bottom line, however, there wasn't anything much to advertise about this place. It was all hype! I was both a little bit amused and also a little bit frustrated by all the build up for pretty much nothing.

Over the last thirty years, I've come to appreciate that many of the folks who visit our churches feel much the same way: a lot of hype and not much substance.

As churches, we want folks to know about our strengths. We've even been schooled in the ways to market our best qualities and show what goods we offer to the religious consumers around us. Much of this is well intentioned. We have often used terms to describe what we hope we are becoming, more than describing the reality in which we find ourselves. (Terms like welcome, family, fellowship, support, comfort, and care abound, but are not really delivered consistently.) In some places where the hype "kinda" fits, unfortunately it often just fits the folks who have been in on the inside of the church for a long time. As many of us have come to learn from our own experience, the only thing worse than an unfriendly church is a friendly church that is not friendly to you — you go around wondering what is wrong with me.

Now please let me clarify a couple of things before you get more than a little irritated with me. I'm not bashing churches — big, small, or in between. In addition, I'm not challenging us to start more comprehensive programs at our churches to close the gap on these personal touch issues with those in our community and those who visit our fellowships. What I am asking each of us to do, however, is to look at what we personally do when we assemble with other Christians!

  • Do I seek out folks that I don't know so I can get to know them better and include them in my circle of friendships?
  • Do I welcome guests and ask them into my circle in Bible class, small group, or with folks on "my pew"?
  • Do I invite them to lunch with me or follow up on their visit personally?
  • Do I check on folks who sit in my "pew neighborhood" on a regular basis to check on how they are doing in the "real world" ... or is my concern really only "foyer talk"?

People who share life together!
Much of the power of our Christian faith is found in real community — people who share life together and not just sit in a church service together. (See the list of passages sometimes called "one another passages" in the New Testament.) One of the cardinal virtues in the early church was hospitality (1 Peter 4:8-10) and one of the most important challenges in community was to welcome others as Christ had welcomed them (Romans 15:7).

So let's personally make a commitment to live beyond the hype and make the family of God real for others seeking Jesus!

What are some things we can each do personally to help others feel more at home in the family of God?

I really would like your suggestions to be posted on my blog so others can see your comments!