“I Can’t Help You” – What Should Never Be Heard at Church

800px-Church_near_Junction_City,_KansasThe other day I was working off to the side in a local church while my wife was in a meeting. This is not a church or congregation that I see or visit often, but have been there a few times in the past. For the most part, I was just trying to get some emails worked through and I was grateful for the church’s free Wi-Fi.

As I was working though, I overheard some of the congregation’s older members. From what I could discern there was some other lunch function and a Circle Meeting happening. There was a little discontent that something out of the usual was happening at the church, and a number of people quietly (or not so quietly) asked “Who are they,” wondering about the function my wife and others were part of. I am used to this sort of query from the stereotypical “have to know everything” members of a congregation.

What really took me aback though was the response from one of those ladies, and likely lay leaders of the congregation. One of the leaders of the meeting Allison was part of, quietly went over to one of ladies to ask a question about the church. I was dumbfounded by the reply she was given by the church member who said:

“I know nothing about that. I can’t help you. Goodbye.”

Let me repeat that, “I know nothing about that. I can’t help you. Goodbye.” Not only is that not hospitality, that is not evangelism. That is not missional. There was no sense of willingness from the church member to help the visitor to that congregation’s space find the information she asked about. No willingness to at least point her to a staff person or other lay leader present. There was no graciousness in this reply. There was no welcome in it.

I was livid. If this had been a congregation I was a member at, I would have walked right over and done something. I’m not sure what, but it would not have stood. I sincerely hope that replies like this don’t happen often anywhere, but especially the church. Seeing it and witnessing it though reminds me that we have a long way to go in ministry and the church to cultivate relationships and really be places of welcome and connection, rather than places of insular focuses.

To be fair, I don’t know the woman’s story. I don’t know if she was crazy stressed, or if she fears strangers. But I do know, that what I witnessed recently was not grace filled, nor the sense of welcome that I believe the church is about.

What would you have done in that experience? What are your hopes for the church as a bearer of welcome and hospitality? 

Image Credit: Lonely Church

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