Some people say they do not go to church because it is too difficult to break into all the ‘cliques’ in most congregations. I looked up clique in the dictionary and the first definition given was “a group of friends.” Well, what is wrong with that? That is what we want the church to be. And we all can’t be best friends with everyone, and so it isn’t surprising that there are smaller groups of friends within the larger community of a congregation. So far, so good.
But the dictionary gives a second definition. It also defines clique more specifically as a “small, exclusive group of people.” Exclusive. There is the problem. Exclusive means we who are already here and know each other are included; but someone else, just in off the street, is going to feel excluded. All congregations will want to work to make sure no one feels excluded. As a congregation, you want to be a ‘close’ community, but you don’t want to be a ‘closed’ community.
Many times after church I have been asked by some good church member, “Who were those new people in church today?” I usually reply politely by telling them the little bit I found out while shaking hands as the visitors head for the nearest exit. But sometimes when someone has asked about a visitor, I have said, “Don’t always ask me—ask them. I am really busy after worship and cannot get around to everyone. But perhaps you could make it a point to talk to them. Just ask them what their name is and what brought them to our church this morning and invite them to stay a cup of coffee with you.”
Cliff never had to ask me about the new people in church, but I knew I could always ask him. Cliff was a member of my first congregation in Lignite, North Dakota. We didn’t get too many strangers visiting in that remote little village. But when someone did visit, Cliff noticed them, and they did not get out the door without a 20-minute visit with this pleasant, kind-hearted old man. And that made them want to come back.
Every congregation needs a few people like Cliff.
Hebrews 13:2 — Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Matthew 25:35b — I was a stranger and you invited me in.
III John 1:5-6 — Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God.
Lord God of salvation, it is your will that all people might come to you through your Son Jesus Christ. Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection. We pray in his name. Amen.
—Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, (#192)
Almighty Father, who has so formed man for thyself that his heart is restless till it find rest in thee: By the ministry of thy church and by the lives of those who humbly love and follow thee, convince the world that thou art the sure refuge of all who are weary and distressed in mind and body, the safe harbor for all who seek peace of heart, and the eternal salvation of every burdened soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, 1958, page 227.