A year ago, I completed a season of ministry with a beloved congregation. It was hard to say goodbye and I have missed being with them. But they are strong and healthy and have been joined by new pastors, and I celebrate that!
I have been worshipping at a nearby church where some of my friends are members. In those early days of last summer, it was strange to arrive for worship along with everyone else, to search for a parking place, to go in the front door, receive a bulletin that I had not prepared, and find a place in the pew. People were warm and welcoming, though, and the place soon began to feel familiar. I quickly came to appreciate the care and the call present in the preaching. The music was strong and beautiful. And the commitment of the church to justice and peace was important to me.
For several months, I continued to come and go through the front door. Then I joined the choir. The first time I came to choir practice at the church, I went as usual to the front door, only to find it locked. Choir members entered instead by the door around in back, and so did I.
I’ve continued entering by that back door, not just for choir, but also on Sunday mornings. I see people in the parking lot that I am starting to know and we exchange morning pleasantries. I enjoy the happy commotion of those who are setting up for coffee hour. I see what new art is displayed. I share conversation with others in the pew as we wait for the prelude. It has started to feel like home. And it was the back door that made the difference. After all, it is the back door where family enters.
Church growth experts rightly point out the importance of a welcoming presence at the front door when a visitor arrives. But the real welcome is not just a smile and a greeting. It is the promise that the back door, as well as the front, is also open.