I've been thinking about this topic for some time, but it never seemed to be the right time to write about it until yesterday evening. On my drive home last night I was thinking about when we first started attending the church where we are members now, and when I first started becoming more involved. We knew a number of people at the church already, so that made it easier, but what impressed me the most was how welcoming it felt. How comfortable. We loved our former church and it played a very important role in our lives (getting us to church, helping me to discover that religion was not always something to be feared, etc.), but we have remarked to each other a number of times that we never really fit in - we didn't have a lot in common with many of the members and we never developed all that many personal connections (certainly with some notable exceptions).
That being said, any church, like any organization, has its cliques. People expect each other to, within a range, look a certain way, act a certain way, worship in a certain way. I remember the pastor at our former church asking more than once - what would we do if Jesus walked into our church right now? Think about it. He'd probably be dirty from the road. He may look a little unkempt. He may have some of his friends with Him - tax collectors, prostitutes, etc. Would we recognize Him? Would we welcome Him? Or, would we all look at Him kind of funny and slide as far down the row as possible?
Now make it easier, or harder. What do we do when someone that we do not know walks into our church? Suppose they are dressed differently? Or look different? Or for one reason or another, just stand out? Casting Crowns has a song called "If We Are The Body" that talks some about this. The song ends with the following:
Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ
If we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching
Why aren't His hands healing
Why aren't His words teaching
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way
There are lots of references in Paul's writings in the Bible to the same idea - breaking down the barriers, recognizing that we are all one:
"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." Ephesians 2:19-20
"Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." Romans 15:7
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:28
I know that I could do a better job at this - being more accepting and welcoming. And this is not limited to Church - being more welcoming to a new person in the neighborhood, a new person at work, a new person in whatever groups we are members of. Rather than focusing on differences, focus on similarities. Opening the cliques that I am a part of.
If we just think about it, and focus on it, we can all make people feel more welcome. That little effort could make a big difference in someone's life.