Being a local preacher, I do not get to “fill the role” of unknown guest at a congregation very often. Last night, I did. I attended what appeared to be an average congregation, with a mix of ages and of apparent middle-class status. The quality of the Bible class was very good, and there was considerable participation from the members. I was a couple of minutes late, and I chose a random seat. After the class and before a brief devotional, a middle-aged woman asked if I was visiting. She was pleasant, and the conversation went until the devotional began. After the last amen, the lady thanked me for coming. I reached out my hand to greet a couple of others, and a young man near the rear of the building greeted me, asking if I was a visitor. The man who taught the class, who appeared to be the local preacher, asked if I was a visitor. I said yes, and he told me to come again.
By personality, I am considered an extrovert. While the weariness of a long day of travel may have affected my outlook, I believe my assessment is not too inaccurate. Despite the refreshing friendliness of a couple of members, the vast majority of those present passed by me. They did not inquire about me, try to find out about me, and none tried to ascertain whether or not I was a member of the church. Had I been of a mind, I could have easily slipped in and out without notice.
This is not an indictment of a single congregation in one area of the county. In the last few years, the same thing has occurred in other states. My perspective is not one of hypersensitivity, as my feelings were not at all hurt. My concern is for legitimate “strangers” at our assemblies. In most congregations, especially in urban areas, “drop ins” from our community are common, if not weekly, occurrences. Each one has an eternal soul for which Jesus died and which should intensely matter to each of us. It concerns me that on the Great Day, before our Just Judge, our Lord will have taken note of our stewardship of these precious opportunities only to say, “I was a stranger, and ye took me not in.” May it never be!