A lot has been written about the experiences of first time visitors to churches. It has been said they make up their minds about a church in the first ten minutes. Based on this, churches are advised to make sure there are greeters in the parking lots, clear signage, and helpful and friendly ushers.
Although an unfriendly atmosphere will certainly not inspire a visitor to return to a church, many who visit are looking for more than hospitality. People who find themselves desperate for meaning in their lives may enter a church hoping to have a life-changing experience. They have heard of Jesus, feel drawn to his message, and hope to find people who will help them learn how to get to know this man and his ways a little better.
Yet, in many cases what they find is a congregation going through the motions of worship with unfamiliar and difficult to sing hymns, a small choir of mostly older people struggling through a musical piece meant for a larger group, and a sermon which is either a not very inspiring lecture or a simplistic pep talk.
The announcements and the bulletin reveal that the true energy of the congregation is focused, not on the worship of God, but on the preservation of the church’s building through fund raising events. The visitor who came for Jesus instead finds an invitation to attend a bake sale. In many churches, although there are some spiritual activities and opportunities for mission and service, the biggest events that take up the time and attention of the majority of the congregation are church fairs, golf outings, Victorian teas, or auctions.
A 2007 Gallup study called Just “Why Do Americans Attend Church?” asked adults who attend church or synagogue at least once a month their most important reasons for doing so. The results reveal that 23% came for spiritual growth and guidance, 20% said it keeps them grounded/inspired, 15% said because it was their faith, and 15% said they came to church to worship God. Only 13% of the respondents said their primary reason for attending church was for the community or fellowship of other members. The remaining reasons for attending church included those who did so because they believe in God/religion (12%), they were brought up that way (12%), or for other or no reasons (5%). The study indicates that the vast majority of people attend church because they are looking for spiritual guidance and to connect with God, not because they are looking for a hospitable environment or social opportunities.
In Matthew 7:7-10 (CEB translation) we read:
Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened. Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread? Or give them a snake when they ask for fish?
We might add: “Which of you will give your children a bake sale when they ask for Jesus? Or give them bingo when they ask for God?”