Home Small Group Leaders Articles for Small Group Leaders The One Thing You Should Never Say to Someone Returning to Church

The One Thing You Should Never Say to Someone Returning to Church

This is the time of year when people are returning to the gym. You know those guys. Maybe you’re one of those guys.

You have intended to be more faithful in the gym, more faithful to work out. But life has happened. Kids’ sports have happened. Work has happened. Vacation has happened. Sleep has happened. And it’s not that you’ve been intentionally avoiding the gym (ok, well, maybe you have, but just hang with me), it’s just that carving out time to drive across town, get an hour-long-workout in, then drive back hasn’t happened.

Thank you very much, January-new-years-resolutions, for reminding us we need to get back at it.

You want to know the worst thing you can hear when you step a foot back in the gym? The one thing that, more than any other, may cause you to not come back? The one thing that seems benign by the one who speaks it?

Welcome back! It sure has been a while…

Thus implying:

  • You must be lazy.
  • You are really packing on the pounds.
  • You sure do need to be at the gym.
  • I know your kind…we probably won’t see you for more than a few weeks.
  • I see that pudge…hopefully you’ll stick around long enough to work it off.
  • You haven’t been here in a while, so you probably have no idea what you’re doing at all.

That may not be explicitly stated, but it’s often what’s heard, because it’s so easy to bring our insecurities into the gym. When you look around, you see people who work out every day. You see equipment that’s intimidating. And then you see yourself. Out-of-shape. Out-of-time. Tired. Weak. A-little-too-round. Don’t-really-want-to-be-there-anyway. And those seemingly innocuous words fall like a ton of bricks on your fragile psyche.

Instead of asking them where they’ve been, or feigning shock that they’re back, just welcome them. Help them feel acclimated. And remember that being there is better than not being there.

Church returnees

The same thing is true around this time of year in churches around the world.

People are gracing the doors of church buildings in an attempt to maintain spiritual goals they set that they knew they should’ve been working to keep all last year. Maybe that’s you.

You have intended to be more faithful in your spiritual life, more faithful to God. But life has happened. Kids’ sports have happened. Work has happened. Vacation has happened. Sleep has happened. And it’s not that you’ve been intentionally avoiding God (ok, well, maybe you have, but just hang with me), it’s just that carving out time to drive across town, get an hour-long-worship in, then drive back hasn’t happened.

Thank you very much, January-new-years-resolutions, for reminding us we need to get back at it.

You want to know the worst thing you can hear when you step a foot back in a local church? The one thing that, more than any other, may cause you to not come back? The one thing that seems benign by the one who speaks it?

Welcome back! It sure has been a while…

Thus implying:

  • You must be lazy.
  • You must hate God.
  • You are really living a life of debauchery.
  • You sure do need to be in church.
  • I know your kind…we probably won’t see you for more than a few weeks. (churches even have a name for you…C&E. Christmas and Easter attenders.)
  • I see that tattoo…I smell that alcohol…I heard that muttering…hopefully you’ll stick around long enough to work it off.
  • You haven’t been here in a while, so you probably have no idea what you’re doing at all.

That may not be explicitly stated, but it’s often what’s heard, because it’s so easy to bring our insecurities into church. When we look around, we see people who have been following Jesus longer than we’ve been alive. And way more effectively than we ever will. We see processes and procedures and systems that are intimidating. And then we see ourself. Out-of-shape. Out-of-time. Tired. Weak. A-little-too-hooked-on-something. Don’t-really-want-to-be-there-anyway. And those seemingly innocuous words fall like a ton of bricks on our fragile psyche, full of baggage that we bring in towards God, the Church, others, and ourselves.

Church returnees: We’re sorry. We say dumb things to help us feel better about ourselves. Or sometimes we just babble because we don’t know what to say. Please give us another chance. We’re just as broken as you are. We need Jesus as much as you are. We can just be knuckleheads sometimes when words start coming out of our mouths.

Church members: Just shut your mouth. Paste a genuine smile on your face. And for crying out loud, would it kill you to just give someone a hug? Or, if you’re not a hugger, give a hearty handshake. Nothing else. No “funny” comments about wondering why they’re here. You’re not that funny…and in fact, you’re offensive. If you say, “Welcome back! It sure has been a while…” they won’t come back. Trust me.  

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benreed@churchleaders.com'
Ben Reed is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow, a multi-site church in the Nashville, TN, area. He holds an Mdiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ben is also an avid coffee drinker and CrossFitter, but not at the same time. Catch up with Ben at BenReed.net. In his book, "Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint," he helps leaders through the process of putting a small group ministry together and creating a place where people belong so they can become.