Stop Being a Friendly Church [mission.hack]

A mission.hack is defined here. We look at mission statements or at mission initiatives and examine different ways of expressing them. Hacking them...if you will.

Yesterday, I attended a presentation by Doug Ruffle, PhD, of the New Jersey area of the UMC who came and did a presentation on church growth and tools for evangelism. He said (at least) one thing that really stuck with me and reminded me of many UMC Mission statements. He said this:

Stop being a friendly church.

Seriously...stop it.

  • A friendly church is not what God calls us to be.
  • We are called to be a church where people can make friends.

Dr. Ruffle writes...
My mother had to move over 10 times during her first 12 years of marriage. My father worked as a salesman and the companies he worked for were constantly assigning him to new places. We asked my Mom how she had managed to pick up everything and move with a family of five to a new town or city where she didn’t know a soul.

“I would find a Methodist Church,” she replied, “because there I knew I could make a friend.”

I thought it interesting how she worded her response. She didn’t look for a “friendly church,” but rather a church where she could make a friend. There is a big difference.

The difference was underscored for me recently upon hearing of a colleague who moved to a new town and sought out the closest United Methodist Church. He found a “friendly church.” People were kind. They smiled at him. Some greeted him during the after-worship fellowship hour. But, he wasn’t making any friends. He even went so far as to invite some of the church members he met to his home — to try to build a relationship — but they couldn’t find the time to come over. My colleague had found a friendly church, but not one where he could make a friend. He has given up trying and now is attending a church of another denomination where within two weeks of his first visit he was invited over to a member’s house for dinner.
To me, this is not mere hospitality, but a discrimination issue too. Too often we are only "friends" with people similar to us, and "friendly" to people who are not similar to us.
  • You know...those people.
  • The ones who you will talk to in coffee hour, maybe even wave back on the street, but otherwise outside the church walls you aren't connected to their lives.
  • The ones of a different race or, perhaps more likely, economic level than you.
We are called to be friends and accountability partners, not just "friendly" people who greet you with a smile, but keep you at arms length.

The statement on a plaque on the front steps of my church says this: "A friendly Church in a friendly town." I'd rather it say "A Church where you can make a friend."

But maybe friendship isn't what you are looking for. Perhaps you are one of those wounded ones who just wants Sanctuary, a time alone with God. Emphasis on alone. That's fine too, and churches that take "to make a friend" to borderline-stalking are out of the loop too.

So, where is the sweet spot between being "friendly" and "making friends" that churches welcoming and hospitality committees can address? And how can pastors and laity alike help move their church from being friendly to actually treating one another like the brother and sister in Christ that they are?

Ruffle concludes his talk with this nugget:
My mother taught me a valuable lesson about the difference between a friendly church and a church where you can make a friend. It's a lesson of which our churches need to be reminded.
When I see the words "a friendly church" that just reminds me to be friendly. If I instead saw "where you can make a friend" I might remember, hey, that's ME. I might be the one making a friend today.

Mission.hacks examine what effect mission statements have on people, and what our mission statements betray about us. Perhaps the "country-club" stigma of the UMC could be a bit more eradicated if we stopped being "friendly" and started trying to offer to be "friends."

Thoughts? Other "friendly" manifestations that you want to note of?



PamBG April 20, 2008 at 4:36 PM  

I think that this is an excellent distinction. I know a church where people have known each other for 30 years. It's not the case that new people are tested and hazed. It's more the case that the existing congregation are so firm friends with themselves, that going to church there is like being a single person who is having dinner with newly-weds as they lovingly gaze into each other's eyes. The idea of 'a church where people can make friends' is a really excellent focus, I think!

Larry B,  April 21, 2008 at 7:03 AM  

Wonderfully stated. We have had to move a few times in the past few years and have had the same experience. We have gone to the Methodist churches first and unfortunately found that they are a "friendly church" but not so much a church where you can make a friend. I especially like pambg's comment about it being like a single person at a dinner with newlyweds.

I think it's very sage advice to consider especially as our general society becomes more mobile and the church can use that as an opportunity to reach out and impact that group of people by being a church where you can make a friend, rather than just being friendly

lloyd h May 5, 2008 at 11:12 AM  

This is a worthwhile distinction between a Pharisaical "church" and a Christ centred church. Thank you. I belong to such a church and it is very shallow and unhealthy. My prayer is that it will be changed by God's holy spirit and know that this will and is happening, praise God

Dan May 9, 2008 at 3:56 PM  

I don't want to say that "friendly" churches are bad. It just may be they need to mature. I go to a church known for its friendliness. We stand in stark contrast to the other churches in our (small) town that are notoriously unfriendly. But one problem we're facing up to, as your post points out, is that we probably have oversold the friendly aspect of our church because people have found that it can be difficult to find a friend or to go deeper in their spiritual life. So it's a problem we're addressing, in particular through small groups. It's where people can become friends and help each other in their spiritual journey.

Ron B.,  October 29, 2008 at 5:59 PM  

Right on, Jeremy! I'm glad we met at CWM, a congregation where just about everyone becomes a friend practically from the 'git-go'.

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