GUEST BLOGGER: KRISTIN SARNO
“Look at the person next to you and give them an awkward smile,” says Pastor Stephen Furtick as he first comes onto the Elevation stage. I spend a lot of time watching and listening to YouTube sermons where the pastors say funny things like this. I believe there’s more to it than just trying to get a laugh from the audience, though. How many times have you walked to your seat, sat down, and started scrolling through your phone without making eye contact to the people around you?
There are about 1600 seats at Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Here, at Fellowship Church we have 300 seats. It’s not nearly as many eyes we can chose to avoid, but still it seems intimidating to someone who may be experiencing their first time at our church.
I think back to when I first became Christian. I was introduced to the Bible by a friend at work, and dove right into it. I started looking into local churches with excitement to find other people like me, filled with love for Christ.
The first Christian church I entered, not one person said hi to me, but I promise you that they knew I had arrived. The other church goers glanced in my direction with what I took as judgmental stares. I instantly questioned everything that brought me there. What was I thinking? I wasn’t ready for church. I didn’t know enough about the Bible. Was I even dressed appropriately? When service was over, I put my head down, and hastily walked to the door to leave.
In reality, I’m almost positive that those glances were simply people noticing me as a newcomer. We’ve all been there when we see someone new at church. They more than likely had a feeling inside of them that was pushing them to speak with me and welcome me to their church. Unfortunately, their own insecurities overcame them just as mine had overcome me. Maybe if I had given them an awkward smile it would have been different. Maybe if they had given me an awkward smile it would have been different.
After a year of attending several churches, misreading far too many glances, and struggling to find a church family, I gave up. Soon, I was led astray by unbelievers. I found myself slowly wandering in a path of darkness and self-destruction. The devil is creative like this. He makes his move a little at a time. Before I had even realized it, I began to rapidly fail in life. To turn my back on Christ after knowing a life filled with His never-failing love is something I never want to experience again.
Several years later, I turned my life back over to Christ. This time was different, though. This time I made a family. I was blessed to find my future husband, and be introduced to Fellowship Church. Still, I remembered we aren’t all lucky enough to walk into church for the first time, and walk out having felt like we found a new home. I wonder often about where I could be now in my walk if God hadn’t led me to a welcoming church like Fellowship.
I’ve made a priority of serving mostly at the coffee bar. That’s not just because I love anything that has to do with a kitchen. I also love the thought that at any moment the person who I am handing a cup of coffee to could be the same person who needs a friendly smile. It could be that person’s first time at our church, and I want to let them know they aren’t alone. When the coffee bar closes, I walk to my seat. I look around me at the sea of faces, and I find that one I don’t know. I still briefly hesitate by my own insecurities, but I no longer avoid that feeling inside of me that pushes me towards this new face. “Hello,” I say, “it’s a great Sunday for church, isn’t it?” This alone, can change someone’s life. This alone can fill another one of our seats.