A wee rant on the unwelcoming church

‘The feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty’. – Mother Theresa 

Everything is a sign, literally. No-thing points to nothing. And over the past few weeks, I’ve been noticing some very literal  and very disturbing  signs around some churches that I’ve visited; signs which indicate, at the very least, some serious confusion about the nature and raison d’être of the community that gathers together in the name of Hospitable Love. Film isn’t able to capture the mustiness and temperature (or lack thereof) of some of the depressing solitary confinement cells (sometimes these are called ‘play area’, or ‘cry room, or ‘creche’) that I’ve seen recently, but here are just a few shots (including one that I pulled from somewhere else on the web) of some other signs that I’ve happened across:

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For those who may be interested, I’ve uploaded a copy of Peter Corney’s wee and somewhat dated booklet, The Welcoming Church. It has some good practical ideas in it. But seriously, folks; hospitality is not rocket science. If someone takes the trouble to visit your home, the least you can do is to let them in, say hello, brew them a coffee, feed them, let them change their kid’s nappy (and use your rubbish bin), find something to talk about, make sure they know where the loo is, remember their name, enjoy them, participate in the movement of ek-stasis which characterises the good cheer of the universe itself, and bless them with a bag of vegetables, a curry, or a bottle of homemade lemonade to take away when they leave. It takes a little bit of thought and effort but, like I said, it’s not rocket science.

So why is it that there are some faith communities, including those made up of some of the nicest individuals you will ever meet, that are just so unwelcoming, or whose public environment, at least, is such? To be sure, there’s a job here for some theology of architecture and of interior design. And at the risk of doing a René Girard, I guess that there’s something too to be said about the DNA of those attracted to serve as community gate keepers. But wherever there is a shortage of the former, that ball needs to be picked up. And where the latter prevails, where such inhospitable demons exist, such need to be exorcised, along with their footprints, if the Body of Christ is to look, feel and smell less decapitated than it often appears. Surely love demands  and seeks  no less.

Sometimes it’s the little things, eh …

Rant over.

By the way, I’m happy to receive by email any photos that I can add to this collection.


  1. The unwelcoming church is one of my pet pieves, especially lack of welcome for small children – so thanks for posting this. The “cry area” in our church is so awful that I refuse to even acknowledge it when it’s my turn to teach (and therefore also announce) Sunday School: I simply invite children of all ages (plus caregivers of young children) to join us. I deeply dislike the shutting away of parents with small kids in a cry room, anyway (aren’t wer supposed to be a new kind of community that welcomes people no matter what?!), and the one in our church is windowless and pretty much a lost cause in terms of decorating. I’ve had pretty horrible experiences in other churches too where mothers of small children are often expected to disappear into the cry room with their offspring like a woman in purdah. In an argument about this with an elderly parishioner I once cited “suffer the little children” and was told “not in this church!” Sorry, rant of my own; I could go on and on about this.


  2. His book may be outdated, but his principals are cutting edge. I attended one of his conferences in 2001 and I still use what I learnt from it, and recently used his book in a assignment.

    Those photos make me want to cry. :(


  3. Don’t stop Silke. You’re singing my song! The Christian community is elected by God to be a microcosm, a sign, of the glorious truth that God loves and has reconciled all humanity – not just adult humanity, or fully-functioning humanity, but all humanity – to himself in Christ. Those communities which take seriously the call to embody this truth are the good news itself.


  4. @ Craig: thanks for weighing in here. I’m encouraged to know that Peter’s book is still being read. And as for the photos, yep. They also serve as a call to action (or what the bible calls ‘repentance’). When I point these sorts of things out (as I do from time to time) to church leaders, they invariably agree with me and seek to take appropriate action. Familiar furniture usually goes unseen. We all have our blind spots, and sometimes it just takes a fresh set of eyes, and a voice willing to identify such things out loud, to help us see.


  5. I have struggled with our church’s minister who has been there since Feb 2011 or there abouts. In Nov 2011, I was kicked off the worship leading team and told my spiritual gifts did not include worship leading.
    It’s not simply children who can be seen as unwanted by people, it can be the very people who are in the congregation.


  6. If a child starts making “noise” of some sort I often use the opportunity to welcome them and affirm that’s lovely to have them in church and that their noise is an indication of health in the church…and afterwards I try to the parent/s that their little on is welcome throughout the service no matter what they’re doing.
    And it’s not just children: we had old fella, on the verge of dementia who used to wake up and say to the person next to him, “Can you tell what he’s on about? I haven’t a clue!” And it was audible right there in the midst of whatever was happening – not even a stage whisper. Mostly we just laughed – though some found it culturally offensive, I’ve encouraged them to learn this is the way at least some Kiwi churches do it!


  7. In the first month o my first call may wife and I went through the church and removed the myriad signs instructing people about what they must and must not do around the church building. I had to lie a few times to cover our tracks. 5 years later and the random rude sign commanding a door always be left open or shut, or insisting that food and drink not ever enter the sanctuary still magically appear but I do my best to catch them.

    However, on a recent visit to a relative in California I visited a would-be mega church and was so warmly and repeatedly greeted; assured of my utter welcome so thoroughly, that I actually felt deeply unwelcome and creeped out and wanted to leave immediately. Sadly, the service was just getting started and the coffee was being put away or I’d have hung out there for awhile. It was that morning that made me feel alright about my gruff ex marine for a greeter and his refusal to give up the last bulletin when we run short. The church is public and sometimes people want to come to the party and be the wallflower.


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