I believe as the GMC continues to develop and add new churches to its network, we must be sure our churches are welcoming and healthy. This led me to consider what makes a church welcoming and are the GMC churches equipped to be welcoming. More importantly, how can I make sure the church I am now serving is welcoming?
I think we need to begin by asking ourselves what a church is and what its purpose is. In Matthew 16, Jesus promises Peter, "And I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (16:18). We are not growing our churches; Christ is doing the multiplication of believers through the church. Paul told the Ephesians that "...God placed all things under his (Christ's) feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (1:22-23)
God appointed Christ to be head over everything for the church, which is his body. Therefore, it seems important for us to understand what Christ expects from those who have accepted him as their Lord and Savior. People make up the body of the church, and the church is his body. So, I think to determine what makes a church welcoming, we must understand what should be expected of both believers and unbelievers in the church.
Unbelievers will not have as much required of them as believers. If people want to come into the church, listen to the sermon, and chat with the people, not much should be expected of them. Just come in and treat the people with common decency, don't steal, vandalize, or hurt the people you meet there. The hope and prayer here is that we can be faithful representatives of Christ to these folks and that one day they will make the decision to be followers of Christ, as well.
Next, let's look at those who did recognize their need for Christ and do ask Christ to be their Lord and Savior. That requires a different way of living and different expectations. Paul told the Corinthians, "This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun." (2 Cor. 5:17). As a new person, your behaviors should change. As Paul instructs the Romans, "Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." (Romans 12:2)
Everyone is welcome in the church; it is the body of Christ. Christ died for every person you encounter; he wants all of us to join him in heaven. However, Jesus also said, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow, and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it."(Matt 7:13-14). You cannot live in the sin of this world and expect to join Christ in the next.
A welcoming church opens its doors wide enough so all who desire to come in can enter. When anyone walks through the door, we must view them as beloved children of God and treat them as such. We must remember that we were once unworthy of love, but God loved us anyways, and Christ died for us despite our fallen nature. But then, we must share with the people the transforming power of the gospel and how it has been responsible for our joy.
Because sin is so destructive, as Christians, we learned that we could no longer live "letting our sinful nature control [our] lives," but instead, we needed to live "letting the Spirit control [our] minds." (Rom. 8:6). In that way we were being obedient to Christ's instruction to his followers. To be a welcoming church, it's imperative that we not only practice these principles but share them with those who become believers.
"Since we all believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them." (2 Corinthians 5:14b-15) A welcoming church then is not one where everyone lives their lives as they wish but one where leaders and others live according to biblical standards and teach others to do the same.