From The Rector…
There is a difference between being friends and being friendly. Though subtle, it can make a world of difference in the way we are perceived.
Being friends and being friendly are very different things though they can share some commonalities. When we are friends, we share a sort of intimacy. We actively work to develop trust with one another. We share life experiences. We help one another out and try to lift one another up. We might do some of these things with strangers, but not in the same intentional way. When we engage with our friends, we do it to grow in particular relationships.
Being friendly is an invitation to another to begin to develop and grow a relationship. It is an openness to others independent of the amount of intimacy we might share with them. When we are being friendly, we engage with another person from a positive place regardless of what our day has been like or our mood. We seek to move outward—away from a self-centered focus and shift to an other-centered focus. We smile more and we shine a bit brighter.
Being friends is great—but it is not always other-focused. Nor is it always a bright, positive external shift in our perspective. Being friendly not only encourages an outward momentum, it sends a message to the other that they are noticed, valuable, important, and worthy of being in relationship with whether they know you or not. When it comes to churches, I will take a friendly church over a church full of friends for just that reason.
Now don’t get me wrong, I hope that churches are rooted in deep and lasting friendships. It makes my heart smile when I hear the stories of how people have grown up together in the church, shared family vacations, been in each other’s weddings, gather on a weekly basis on someone’s back porch, share meals together, sit by one another’s bedside when they are sick, hold one another’s hands when they grieve, and on and on. The challenge with a church full of friends is that they tend to become a bit insular. They might be nice to the visitor/newcomer, but they don’t work as hard to embrace and engage them.
The fortunate thing is that though Ascension is full of friends, it is also a friendly church. It is a church that works hard to engage with new faces and even old ones. I try to make a personal contact with every visitor who fills out a visitor card to get to know them a little better and, in the process, find out why they came to Ascension. The overwhelming majority of them tell me a story about how someone spoke to them, asked them about themselves, made them feel welcome and at home. One young couple told me, “People smiled at us.” Crazy to believe, but it really is that simple. Smile at people and they will feel welcome.
I get asked how I am going to grow the church all the time. But its really not me who “grows” the church. It’s the people of God who take the simplest action and smile at others—especially and including the stranger. Smiles are infectious. They are the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of being friendly.
We do a lot of things right at Ascension and the best thing we do is to offer a smile, a kind word of welcome, and a feeling that others matter. We can’t stop there. We must keep being friendly and engaging to bring others into the family—into the body of Christ. You are the reason that we confirmed 25 folks on Ascension Day, received two and reaffirmed 2. Keep up the AMAZING work!!
Light and Life,