When she joined Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church and submitted to baptism, it was not because she was a repentant sinner. It was because she wanted to know more about conservative Christians and felt that the best way to do so was to go undercover.
What she discovered surprised her. She developed close relationships with people she believed to be her enemy. She also felt a sense of loss when she moved away. She misses the communal signing, the moving sermons and the sense of connectedness.
Despite her strong desire to want to believe, she did not embrace Christian faith nor change her political beliefs. Her story leads me to three observations.
First, community is a big draw for a church. It is so strong that even when a person rejects the religious beliefs and political doctrines of a church they can still feel connected. This is why so many people repeatedly jump across denominational lines when looking for a church. Community was the most remarkable feature in the early days of the church (Acts 2:41-47). A church that wants to grow will make sure visitors feel welcome and are quickly assimilated.
Second, it is possible to belong to a church and never have had a spiritual transformation. This explains why there can be so much unChristlike behavior from people who are in leadership positions in the church. There are some who put the institution of the church above the gospel.
Third, those outside the church feel unwelcome. Gina Welch thought she had to sneak in because she would be unwelcome. She had no idea that, if she presented herself honestly as a curious seeker, she would have been welcome. She maintained her deception despite developing close relationships over a two-year period. There are many in church today who hide their true selves in fear of rejection from their friends.