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January 5, 2006

By Betty Baggott

Happy New Year to each one of you. My hope is that this year will be the best you have ever had.

What an honor we have as members of the church to reach out as a congregation and as individuals. The congregation of any church is a missions field in itself with wounded souls needing a smile and encouragement. Because they are in attendance does not mean all is right with the world.

This year, determine to know your church family, not just the group you spend the most time with but faces that are unfamiliar. There are many who join a church and never find the group with which they fit. A family walks in the door Sunday after Sunday and is never invited into a home. That warm fellowship could invade the lives of others as nothing else can. The excuse “We have so many new people that I do not know who is a member and who is not.” is not good enough. It only takes a minute to say, “I hope you are having a good day. I am so glad you are here.”

Take it from one who knows. I have been on both sides of the fence. I remember the time we moved to Fort Worth, Texas, to attend seminary. Trying to find the right church was not easy. We visited three churches and chose to be there not only on Sunday but also Wednesday night.

With the personality of my husband, Bob, and me, you might find it hard to believe that we could attend a worship service and leave without one person saying a welcome word. The greeters were at the door, but to us, that did not count as much as if one person would have said, “Welcome.” The members of the congregation are the ones who set the spirit of the church. But once we passed that group at the door, we were on our own.

After the service, I turned to Bob and said, “I’m so glad we came this morning. Welcome.” We both laughed and got in the car.

Then there was the Wednesday night we attended the supper at the church. We were a young couple far away from home, and our night was spent sitting alone at a table where one would have thought we had the flu. We talked to each other and were not gaining a good impression of the church.    

Then the preacher came through the door. Thank goodness he had an eye for visitors. He directed some people to sit with us and introduced us around after he made a point to find out all about us. We went home with a warm feeling. The next day, he gave us a call.

But it should not just be the job of the minister to make people feel at home. We used to make it a point on Wednesday nights when Bob was the pastor of a church to look for just such a situation as I have described. You would be surprised, but even when members had visitors pointed out to them, they would sit somewhere else.

Now this does not happen in all churches. When we were living in Fort Worth, I will never forget the outpouring of love for the young couples in the church we joined. From day one, it was as if they had people who did nothing but hold sacred their job of making those who visited the church feel at home. And once you became a member of that church, you felt like family.

At that time, money was scarce and going out to eat was a treasure. We could not wait to get to church because someone invited us out to eat almost every Sunday. It was not just us; this love spread to other couples and to senior citizens. We learned more from the members of this church than we ever learned at the seminary. It was all about the love of God being conveyed to others. It was about time — remembering that Jesus was never in a hurry and neither should we be.

We should all get out of ourselves and our little world and open our hearts to those who need friends and are searching for a church home. And when they do join, don’t drop them.

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