When people visit our church, I usually write them a personal letter to welcome them. I also include a questionnaire asking them about their first impressions of our church, things that appealed to them, and things that they felt needed to be improved. Recently, a visitor who had just moved here from out of state responded to the questionnaire with the following comments: “I read two of your books about the house church and I visited with high expectations. But when we came, nobody welcomed or guided us. It seemed that the church was already too full and only those already connected with a House Church could get in. People like us who were visiting the church for the first time could not find any room to squeeze in. At our previous church, each House Church tried to recruit new members, but here nobody showed any interest in us.”
Here’s how I replied: “Our church’s primary goal and mission is to reach out to non-believers. Visitors who find our church through the House Churches don’t need help; shepherds or other HC members should already be helping them. The problem lies with visitors who come on their own. However, most of these visitors are already followers of Christ, and we encourage them to go and help weaker churches. So given our philosophy, we do not feel a pressing need to provide a special ministry to help these types of visitors.”
We try to stick to this policy as much as possible. We go as far as not allowing people to join our congregation if they are already members of another Korean church in the Houston area. What we do is ask them to visit another church for at least four weeks and seriously consider joining that church first, asking for a pastoral visit and getting to really know the church. If, having done this, they still cannot find a suitable church, I ask them to drop a note in my mail box stating that they have indeed visited another church 4 times. Then we allow them to join our congregation. (There are other steps they must go through before becoming a full member.) So far, however, no one has joined our church in this way.
Some people cannot believe that there is a pastor who does not want people to join the congregation simply because they are already followers of Christ. Some even say I’m clever, that I’m using reverse psychology – attracting believers by not welcoming them. But I really am sincere in not wanting members of other churches to join our church. Primarily because I do not want to hurt smaller churches. But I do have my own somewhat
selfish reasons as well.
People who have been Christians for a long time often have their own ideas about what a church should be like. When people like these first join our church, they are excited and happy. But eventually they find some differences between our church policies and their own ideas about church and they start to make negative remarks, which confuses new believers and dampens the zeal of those who are eager to serve.
Some of our current church members did in fact come from other churches in the area. But they clearly understood our church’s mission and enthusiastically supported and followed our church policies to become a member. I call them not “someone from other church” but simply “our member”.
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