Become a Minister of Friendliness
Shake Some Hands, Change Some Lives in your Church
“A man who has friends must himself be friendly” Proverbs 18:24 (NKJV)
We were enjoying our visit to the suburban congregation,
but then after the wonderful time of worship, there came an
awkward shift when everyone was asked to turn and shake hands with
persons nearby. I knew the drill, have done the same many times
myself while trying to encourage warmth and friendliness within
the congregations I’ve pastored. However, though several complied
and politely offered their hand toward my wife and I, there was a
noticeable coldness, lack of eye contact... nearly the appearance
of pain on the faces of many.
I was taken back, and whispered to my wife, “Is it me? Did I forget to shave or something?” Determined to break
through this frosty barrier, I then launched myself forward again, this time grinning, greeting, hugging, shaking hands with everyone
and everything in a 20 foot radius! Some folk appeared shocked by
such an aggressive, friendly visitor. Others seemed delighted and
kept smiling at my wife and I for the remainder of the service.
Ironically, I’ve experienced this same scenario in many churches across the country. It seems very
odd that my wife and I sometimes end up as the friendlier people in
the various churches we visit… although we’re complete strangers
there. Is this really the way it should be?
At first, it seems strange to encounter persons in a church gathering, trying to remain isolated and withdrawn from others... but there can be a number of explanations why. Some simply have a shy or introverted personality. Others may be dealing inwardly with personal hurts or wounds. Perhaps some wrestle with feelings of distrust or hesitancy toward others. And there are those who simply struggle with a sense of “self-absorption,” who really don't see the need to interact beyond their personal interests. The writer of Proverbs said, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire” (Proverbs 18:1).
This, however, reveals one of the most important reasons why we “NEED” to attend church. We all have a great need to pull our attention away from ourselves... first, to focus on and worship our Lord Jesus, that His presence might be manifest (Matthew 18:20)... but also to practice love toward one another, to encourage, help and minister to the lives of others. A constant inward focus, that dwells only about ourself... our problems, our needs, our interests, our desires... is unhealthy and only serves to hinder our spiritual growth. Redirecting our love, concern, and care toward our brothers and sisters in Christ can enable the Lord to bring renewed strength and healing into our own lives.
What an irony, some seem to think church is about “themselves,” but in reality it’s more
about “one another.” In fact, the scripture that most strongly
urges against the idea of skipping church, emphasizes this very
thing. “And let us consider one another in order to
stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of
ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one
another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching”
This will not come as a surprise to those who already practice this,
but loving, encouraging, serving and giving of yourself to the
needs of others, is the means God uses to bring blessing back into
“your” life. This was a part of what Jesus was referring to when
He said, “Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). When we
give ourselves away... to help and uplift someone else, God is
able to do His divine work in us. It goes without saying, if our
attention is centered only on “self,” it will only serve as a
spiritual hindrance from what God wants to do in us.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but
in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you
should look not only to your own interests, but also to the
interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV).
A potluck dinner is probably one of the best metaphors of what the
typical church is really supposed to be like. Everyone brings
something to contribute to the dinner, and consequently everyone
ends up getting their fill of a wonderful assortment of foods and
dishes. In most such potlucks I’ve experienced, the ladies of the
church usually bring their very best home-cooked dishes… and the
assortment and quality generally rivals the most exquisite
restaurants. Wouldn’t it seem silly if a person would bring a dish
such as a meatloaf, and then ate only their own meatloaf for the
dinner? Ugh! And likewise, how bland and empty persons will find
the church, if they only focus on themselves and seek only to fill
their own need. Give of yourself, and you’ll find that your
generosity will come back to you… in ways you could never do for
In my early days of pastoring, one of the most awkward
responsibilities for me at first was to visit persons in the
hospital. I didn’t think I always knew the right thing to say or
do. However I eventually learned that none of that was really a
concern, that merely my presence or a simple prayer was all that
was needed… as an expression of love and concern that lifted their
hearts. And to my surprise, I soon found myself being blessed and
encouraged far more than the dear folks I was visiting. Some of
the most spiritually enriching times of my life occurred while
trying to encourage people in the hospital... and I can definitely
attest to the fact that giving of my time to love and minister to
others, has done more for me than anyone I was trying to help.
So can such a simple thing as friendliness really make much of a
difference in anyone’s life? Absolutely. Not only does it create
an appealing warmth that invites persons to come back to church...
so hopefully they will follow Christ with their life… but God can
use our friendliness to make a direct life-changing impact.
During an evening service years ago I spotted a visitor in the the
back who appeared alone and distressed. At the service conclusion
he lowered his head and began a hasty departure, evading our
ushers as he made his way to the exit. But by taking a shortcut to
the rear, I was able to pop up at the door just as he emerged. He
was startled, and as I reached out to shake his hand and thank him
for coming… he immediately burst into tears. He later told me
that he had intended to run out the door to “end his life.” He had
been overwhelmed with problems, discouragement, depression… but
confided that my simple hand-shake and kind gesture at the door
changed his heart. That night he decided to turn his life and
problems over to Christ.
Be assured, your gestures of compassion are never wasted. Give God
something to work with, and He can use the simplest act of
kindness to make all the difference in a person’s life.
Suggestions to Begin your Ministry of Friendliness (Seasoned with humor!)
1. Consider friendliness as a genuine ministry. Think
of “being friendly” and “shaking Hands” as an outreach
(“out-reach”, get it?). Even if you’re a bit shy at such things,
pray for boldness… take it seriously and ask God to use you, and
2. Look for opportunities. Express friendliness to
all and extend your hand as appropriate, but never put pressure on
anyone to shake hands. Some people deal with a fear of germs, and
a few simply don’t like to touch hands. It does no good to
arm-wrestle anyone to the floor, to prove that he’s welcome
3. Clean hands are a must. If you plan to shake
hands, make sure yours are washed and that your nails are clean
and trimmed. Ladies especially are very sensitive to this. No
heavy perfumes or lotions. Worried about being infected by germs?
There are several new long-lasting hand sanitizers that provide up
to 6 hours of germ protection, such as Zylast. Churches ought to
4. Offer a firm, confident two-count handshake. Take
their hand firmly (“not” with a hulk hogan vise grip), and shake
it deliberately. Take the lead, avoid the limpy, gripless
technique that forces them to do all the hand shaking. And don’t
be hesitant or brief. That suggests you didn’t want to shake their
hand to begin with.
5. Don’t show prejudice with your friendliness.
Don’t avoid anyone because they look like a loser, are unattractive
or of a different color. Be enthusiastic toward all. And hey,
guys, don’t just shake hands with pretty girls! Keep the
hand-shaking out in the open public view, not back in a dark
corner somewhere. And if someone looks creepy or scary… don’t go
it alone. Just go find one of the equally scary church
elders to team up with you in greeting such ones. God loves even
creepy people! (kidding)
6. Be sure to Smile. This may sound weird, but you
may need to practice smiling in a mirror… so that others can
interpret whether you’re happy to see them. No kidding, some
smiles don’t look like smiles, so try it out on a friend before
you scare somebody at church. No, don’t fabricate yourself or be
phony in any way… but just learn how to transfer what’s in your
heart through your face!
7. Make eye contact. In the wild, if confronted by a
bear, survivalists are taught to avoid eye contact. However, good
news... the person at church is probably not a bear, and you are not in the
woods, so make plenty of eye contact... without winking, bulging or
crossing your eyes. Looking away means that you’re not really
interested in them. Looking down means something similar… or that you’ve
8. Say something nice, like "God bless you," or "we
appreciate you," or maybe "wasn't the service great?" (The pastor will love
that one!) Offer your name, and if they respond with theirs, try
to memorize it so you can greet them by name next time. Avoid
comments about the stench of their breath, hairy arms or body
odor. And it’s probably best “not” to say something like “Thanks for
visiting,” unless you know they really “are” a visitor… lest you
find out later they’ve been members for decades!
9. Friendliness can always use good hygiene and smell fresh!
Use breath mints, anti deodorant... and also carry kleenex and a couple
packets of hand wipes. Why? I’m not sure, but they may come in
By the way, fraternal hugs can be a terrific expression between
believers at church (between the same genders, and if okay'd by
your pastor), however hugs for visitors might be best reserved
until later, after you get to know them a bit. It's better than
getting punched out for being too chummy!
Now go forth… and be Friendly!