Have you ever walked into a room and felt immediately welcome? It’s a great feeling, isn’t it? People smile when they see you and turn in your direction. Sometimes there is handshaking, hugs, laughs, and good feelings. Robert Frost, the great American poet, knew how important it was to feel welcome, so when he published his first book, “North of Boston,” the first poem in it was called “The Pasture” and was short but welcoming:
I'm going out to clean the pasture spring;
I'll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I shan't be gone long. -- You come too.
That was it, just four lines, but ending with “You come too.” We want to feel welcome, it’s in our DNA. Mr. Rogers sang “Won’t you be my neighbor?” and we answered, “Yes.” In John 1:39, Jesus is the one who is welcoming when He replies to two of John the Baptist’s disciples who wanted to know where He was staying. He said, “Come and see.” I would suggest that all testimony, all witnessing, all evangelism is grounded in this simple invitation. "Come and see.” Evangelism is invitational. It is basic because we all want to be invited, to “come and see.” George Barna spent years and a whole lot of money trying to find out why people went to specific churches. His findings were widely published, if also widely ignored by most. The pastors were not too happy as only about 5% of the people came to a church because of the pastor. Even more surprising, to me at least, was that almost a third of the people were attracted to the building (I don’t think that would have made Christ happy). The big finding, and the one that didn’t surprise me in the least was that about two thirds of all people went to a church because someone in that church invited them. If when they went to that church, the members made them feel welcome, they would stay and become active members. We so want to be welcome, and the best welcome is to be personally invited—to hear “You come too.” or “Won’t you be my neighbor?” or the best one would be Jesus saying to you, “Come and see.” When we landed in Africa for the very first time, we were welcomed to Pete O’Neal’s place with tribal dancing, drums, and flaming torches. It was late at night, but we felt welcome, and Karen looked at me and said, “We are home.” This was over two years before we made the permanent move to Tanzania, but here we were welcomed, loved, cared for, and made to feel special. I hope that you have had that feeling, and I pray that your church community makes you feel that way every time you go. I have done revivals for churches that brought in many new members only to have many of the church members drive them away by making them feel very unwelcome. I have done that in four countries on three continents and the results are always the same. The churches that made the new members feel welcomed and special grew incredibly and were very active, vital, and alive, expanding the Kingdom of God and being true to Christ’s commandment to spread His word. However, in every church where those who felt the church belonged to them made the new ones feel unwelcome—those churches grew smaller, inert, inactive, and I suppose not very pleasing to Christ. This is nothing new, it is not rocket science, it is about the very basic human need to feel loved, liked, and welcomed. Once a new member has joined a church, it is important to get them involved, get them on committees, work groups, mission groups, and given jobs and positions of leadership. The churches who do this, and Central UMC in Fayetteville, Arkansas, is a good example, grow and spread Christ’s word in the community and in the world. If you want your church to be active, vital, and to grow and show Christ’s love shining from within it, all you have to do is to be inviting, welcoming. Make the people who visit for the first time feel like they are home and keep making them feel that way. You know yourself how it feels to enter a room and see people smile when they see you and how it feels to enter a room and feel ignored and excluded. You want to return to the first room over and over, but you never want to go in the second room again. “You come too.” “Won’t you be my neighbor?” “Come and see.”