An Open Letter to American Churches
A writer returned to the States after years abroad, and started looking for a church. Here's what she found.
[Editor’s note: Mentanna Campbell recently returned to the United States after serving as a missionary in France for years. She started looking for a church. And then wrote this letter.]
Dear church members,
I am looking for a church. I’m already a believer, so I’m an easy catch. You don’t have to convince me that God exists or that it is important to come to church regularly. I’m even one of those in the 20th percentile who will be actively engaged, eager to serve in my giftedness. I really want to find a church home (and soon), but I confess this search has been harder than I expected.
I see so many things that make me want to turn around and walk out the door.
Oh, I know that no church is perfect. I’m not searching for that. I guess I have just been surprised at how awkward it feels to be a visitor, and I wonder if you really remember what it feels like to be in my position. So this letter is just to give you a peek into what I have been experiencing as I go from one church to the next. I know those of you who have been in church for a long time forget how hard this searching process can be. So take a moment and hear me out. I think I might have some helpful suggestions for your church.
Please don’t set up a visitor welcome center and then not welcome guests when they show up there. Pick wisely the people who staff that center. I know it is easy to get talking to people you already know, but I really think the welcomers should keep themselves available so they are ready to help a newcomer the moment they show up to ask questions. I mean, I’m happy to eavesdrop on your conversation about Sally’s driver’s test for a couple of minutes, but after that I get a bit restless. We visitors already feel a bit conspicuous, so don’t make me wait too long to find out where the sanctuary is and if that coffee you are offering is free or not.
Please don’t offer me cheesy gifts for coming to visit your church. I don’t need Starbucks gift cards or fancy pens. And for sure don’t offer me a copy of the U.S. Constitution along with a 10-minute diatribe on why I need to vote biblically and morally. Your gifts feel like bribery to me. They make me feel like you are selling an image instead of offering a place to belong. I want your authenticity and commitment to Christ to be that which draws me back, not the promise of another book or CD. Give me a Bible if you want because I might not have one. Offer me information on your church to take home and read. But please don’t treat me like the only single girl in a room full of ready-to-marry bachelors. Let’s just say I’m more interested in who you are than how you look, and I won’t walk down the proverbial aisle until I know for sure that we are destined to be together.
Please talk to me. Don’t give me an inquisitive glance and then just walk away. Don’t forget that visitors don’t know anyone. We feel like we stick out a bit anyway. Come up to us and shake our hands. Introduce yourselves. Ask a few good questions. Nothing is worse than spending over an hour surrounded by people and not having anyone say anything to you.
Please include on your website what to expect if I come to your church. I need to know how to dress. I need to know if my kids go to the service with me or not. I would like to know most of that before I come so I can be prepared to entertain my kindergartner during your 45-minute sermon.
Please don’t force me to fill out a visitor’s card. Don’t make me write down any information, especially if I have already sidestepped your first appeal to get me to do so. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, so don’t make me have to keep coming up with excuses. The truth is that I’m not going to fill out anything until I am sure that your church might be a real option for me.
I know you have a lot to do. I know people are busy on Sunday morning trying to get their kids to Sunday School on time or trying to get in that last-minute conversation before the service begins. I know you want people to join and be a part of your church. I know you can’t always be on your game. I’m just trying to help out, trying to let you know what it feels like to be on the other end of your hospitality.
Thanks to all of you who genuinely welcomed us, who walked us to the sanctuary, who actually sat with us and introduced us to others. Your kindness ushered us into His presence, and for that we are thankful.
I love you, church. I really do.
Your searching sister,
Mentanna Campbell is a blogger and a mom who is looking for a church. This article was originally posted on her blog and is reprinted by permission.