I was speaking with a young friend recently who shared her heart about feeling welcome but not necessarily wanted in her friend group. She explained that when they all gathered she enjoyed herself. She thought of herself as part of their group, but then thought it strange that when she didn’t show for an evening out, no one seemed to notice her absence. Her birthday came and went and she only heard from one member of the group a few days later. This gave her pause. Did they really care about her at all? She felt welcome when she was with them, but was she really wanted?
The difference between “welcome” and “wanted” had never really struck me before. The more I thought about it, the more I realized these words are deeply significant for our relationship with God and the way we treat others within the Body of Christ.
Every human being needs to know they are wanted by God, and this truth must be conveyed by the Church. God doesn’t only offer us salvation; he invites us to share in his very life. The Church should do the same. People must know they are not only welcome to walk through our door and sit in our congregation, but also that they are truly wanted as a valued part of the community. In whatever state someone comes, we can share our life with them. That’s what love does.
Maybe it’s happened to you. You visit a new church and are enthusiastically welcomed at the door. Perhaps they even give you a pretty sweet coffee mug. Your hopes are high that this could become your church home. You attend for a few weeks. You like the preaching, and maybe you sign up to volunteer. But it feels like something is missing.
In your time there, no one has reached out to you. No one has extended a personal invitation to their Bible Study or invited you to coffee. No one has asked to hear your story or wanted to know more about you. In time, you drift away. It’s not that something was particularly wrong, you just didn’t feel embraced. You didn’t experience the reality of loving fellowship, and you didn’t feel that anyone would notice if you left.
The Body of Christ should be more than merely welcoming. It should overflow with a genuine warmth that embraces the other, the stranger. Every human being, in every stage of life, reflects God uniquely. Each person brings something to the Body that would be absent without them. In that sense, everyone deserves to be embraced, celebrated, and above all…LOVED.
Letting someone know they are wanted often involves setting our own agenda aside. It involves reaching out, sometimes far beyond our comfort zone. Isn’t that what Jesus did? He certainly went beyond his disciples’ comfort zones, and I think you can even argue that Jesus sometimes stepped outside his own. Think of the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus travels through Samaria for the sole purpose of meeting her. He is tired and thirsty by the time he reaches the town of Sychar. Not only that, she isn’t a woman with a pristine past. He could easily have avoided her, even sent her away. And yet, his encounter with the woman leaves her with no doubt that she is seen, she is known, and she is loved. She goes on to spread this news to everyone she meets.
That’s how the Gospel works. People who have experienced being seen, known, and loved, can’t contain their joy. They simply must share the good news!
I’ll never forget visiting a church in Illinois many years ago with my mom. I had only been a Christian for a year or so, and I wanted a church to attend when I was home from college. We enjoyed our visit to St. Mark’s, but it was what happened later that stands out in my memory. Sometime in the late afternoon, the doorbell rang. My family lived in a rural area, and Amazon didn’t yet exist, so this was a rare occurrence. I opened the door to find a middle-aged couple holding a gorgeous, fresh loaf of bread. They said they were following up on our visit that morning and wanted to know more about us. Did we have any questions about the church? My mom and I sat with them for sometime in our living room. There was no pressure, no expectation, just kindness. I kept thinking, They drove all the way out here with fresh bread for us??? We didn’t just feel welcome, we felt wanted.
St. Mark’s became our church home from that moment forward, and my mom even chose to be baptised there a few months later. I married and moved away the next year, but my mom remained at St. Mark’s for 25 years, serving in multiple leadership roles. I don’t know if any of that would have happened if a kind middle-aged couple hadn’t driven a half hour into a cornfield to deliver us a loaf of bread on a Sunday afternoon.
So what about you? Think about times when you have experienced being seen, known, and loved just as you are. What made you feel that way? How can you make others feel wanted that way too? Even small gestures can make a huge difference.