When the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA championship last week, ESPN reporter Malika Andrews interviewed the team during the trophy presentation. She noted that the Bucks had been knocking on the championship door for several seasons but that when player Jrue Holiday joined the team this year, they finally broke down the door. She asked Jrue, “What made you such an immediate fit with this team?” Jrue said, “They embraced me.” He added, “They believed in me.” While Jrue may have been the missing link that helped the Bucks win the finals upon his arrival, he credited his teammates for welcoming him and making him comfortable as the secret to their success.
Joining a new team, starting a school year, or entering into any new situation can be stressful. Setting foot into a church for the first time can be one of the most angst inducing choices anyone can make. Some may carry a lot of emotional baggage associated with religion and churches. They may have heard that they were unloved and unwanted from the pulpit. They may have felt excluded, either explicitly or subtly, by other members of the faith community. For others who were not introduced to church by family or friends, the decision to approach a church may fill them with uncertainty, which can produce a great amount of fear.
Even for those raised in a healthy church setting, finding a new church environment can be daunting. Churches are like any other social communities – people naturally form friendships and smaller groups within the larger group of members. And while one of the greatest benefits of church can be the close relationships that develop, churches can also have cliques, which make it hard for new people to feel comfortable.
Sometimes, those of us who are members of churches fall into the trap of thinking it’s the job of the new people to fit in, that if they want to belong, they will make an effort. But we “on the inside” need to welcome those who bravely stand on the threshold. We need to make an effort to get to know them and introduce them to others. While some of us who belong to churches may not feel completely comfortable talking to new people because of our own insecurities or the inherent fear of rejection, we must remember that the newcomers probably feel much more intimidated and wary.
In Galatians, the Apostle Paul said, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Galatians 6:10 (ESV). We have the opportunity to do good when we welcome people into the household of faith. At best, our faith communities can become families who support one another in good times and bad. Even though not every person who enters the church will stay for a long time or be as invested as others, we can show them grace when we encounter them, no matter how briefly.
In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul stated, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Romans 15:5-7 (NIV). We glorify God when we accept God’s people. We have the honor and privilege to demonstrate God’s love to people as they seek to become closer to God. Let us embrace them as they pursue a relationship with God knowing that we will strengthen our own relationships with God in the process.