Reprinted from the April 2014 issue of “Gospel Advocate” Magazine.
Several times a month, we receive visitors in our congregations. Some of us may take more notice or interest in them than others, but frequently we have them come into our doors to worship with us.
We ask them to fill out a visitor card that asks how they heard about us. What the visitor card does not ask is why they came. This question is often overlooked by those in the church. Yet when someone comes in our doors, they are looking for something. They may not be quite sure what it is, but there is a reason they are there.
Why People Visit
Sometimes people visit because they have friends who invited them. More often than not, this means some genuine curiosity about the church. It makes a statement that someone trusts you enough to visit a church with you.
Sometimes people visit because they see construction going on, and they are curious about it and the growth that causes it. Anytime something seen as big occurs, people want to be a part of it. Sometimes people visit because of a new preacher, and they want to know more about him. Some people visit because they are faithful Christians traveling through your area.
All of these are common reasons we receive visitors, but there is another more important reason we receive them. Frequently we receive visitors because they are hurting. They have marriages and families that are falling apart. They have lost their jobs. They are addicted to alcohol or drugs. They have lost loved ones. They are sick. They are lonely. Many people are genuinely in pain and seeking answers. And they know that many find peace through Jesus Christ.
These visitors are nearing rock bottom and are desperately reaching out for something, anything that might help. These visitors are seeking salvation. They are seeking the peace that surpasses all understanding.
How Do We Receive Them?
How do we receive these visitors, these lost souls seeking to be found? Sadly, this is an area where, if the apostle Paul were writing to us, he would likely say, “In this I do not praise you.”
I had a friend in Texas who moved to a nearby town where he was less than a mile away from a church of Christ. He and his family went there three or four times but were never once even greeted. They stood outside the auditorium by the doors, waiting to be welcomed, and people just walked by them.
Fortunately this family was already in Christ and was just looking for a new church home. Because of the way they were treated, they decided to come back to our congregation and drive 25 miles each way to get here. But this same situation could be applied to many not in Christ. They could be the ones who were hurting, who were looking for salvation and peace, but were left out in the cold.
Other congregations might be really good at welcoming their visitors, but they never follow up with them.
Brethren, we have to do better than this. We are Christians – those called after His name. What was Jesus’ stated mission? “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10 nkjv). His mission is our mission. When people come in our doors, we need to welcome them, find out why they are there, and minister to them. They may have some physical needs to be met. We need to meet that need and then attend to their greatest need: their need for salvation from sin.
Too often we become like the disciples Jesus sent to Samaria to buy bread. They could have gone into town, where many people lived, bought bread from someone, and returned to Jesus without ever saying a word to anyone about Him. Jesus then said to His disciples: “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest” (John 4:35). These men had left all to follow Jesus, but they had missed the entire point of their calling! They were chosen to tell people about Jesus and lead them to Him.
With our visitors, we do not even have to go looking for them; they come to us! Let us resolve to pay more attention to our guests. How terrible it would be to have someone come to us looking for answers but never hear about Jesus one-on-one.
Chad Martin is the minister at the Lake Norman Church of Christ in Huntersville, N.C. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.