This may seem like an odd question to ask. I’m sure for many, the response would be, “Of course!” After all, who would want to join a church that didn’t welcome them?
The problem with being a welcoming church has as much to do with how we treat ourselves as it does how we treat others. When I hear people speak about being a welcoming church, or read materials on the subject, it is immediately clear that the underlying assumption is that the church is a commercial enterprise. You welcome church visitors the same way you welcome customers: study your area demographics, figure out what they want, mold your product to fit the customer’s wants, and deliver. This is the model developed by Willow Creek. It is also the model that after years of study proved to be false and ineffective by the very people who created it.
Thinking of being “welcoming” portrays neither the church community nor the visitors in a positive light. The church is a product, and visitors are the mindless, faceless people with demands to be wooed. If this is what it means to be welcoming, then no, the Church should not be welcoming.
If, instead, we are open and honest about what the Church is and who we are, we can be welcoming in more, honest ways. Becoming part of a faith community requires commitment. It is a commitment shared by the entire community, together. A faith community does not offer what people “want”, as if we as human beings had any idea if what we want is actually good or what we need. A faith community is not a club with membership perks and privileges (and we as the Church desperately need to get ourselves out of this mindset).
So yes, the Church should be welcoming. But it should welcome people to be a part of the community. It should welcome them to share in the joys and the trials of being disciples. It should welcome them to something greater than themselves. It should welcome them to the history that brought this particular community to the present. It should welcome them to a new way of living, thinking, and being–none of which is accomplished by programs, classes, coffee mugs, pamphlets, knickknacks or advertisements.