After being in paid ministry for over a decade, I recently joined a church where I have no position, title, or responsibility beyond that of any other new member. Let me tell you, it’s an eye-opening experience of how churches operate.
My family has moved half-way around the world, and we’ve settled down at a new church in a new denomination in a new country with 400 or so new people to meet. The key difference for our family, however, is that this time I’m not on staff, so we were welcomed just like anybody else who turns up to this church. In particular, we got to experience not just visiting a church (which I’ve done plenty of times) but actually going back week after week as relative newcomers. Having been for so long on the ‘other side’ of church welcoming—greeting new families, following them up during the week, encouraging church members in their welcoming of new people, etc.—there’s three things that have stood out to me as I’ve reflected on the past few months.
The initial contact when someone walks through the front door is crucial, of course. But so is the follow-up through the week, even if it’s just to say a quick hello. In my experience, the following couple of weeks are just as important, and far more often neglected. Consider weeks three and four, for example (it might be later than this)—all the church staff and key leaders have had a chance to meet the new person, and they’ve come back a couple of times, but they still don’t know many people and certainly don’t feel part of things. It’s easy to think at this point, “I welcomed them to church last week; I’d better look out for some new faces” while the regulars are busy catching up with other regulars, leaving the recently arrived family at a loose end. Keep introducing new people to others at church, involving them in the family you’re already a part of.
It’s a small but effective thing: remembering someone’s name, or even anything else about them, does wonders for making them feel welcomed. In our case this was especially true for my daughter—she quite looked forward to going back to church after being able to say “Miss Kristen asked me where my cool shoes from last week were, and I got to sit next to Sophia again”. Even if you’re rubbish with names, there’s still hope. One guy at church has reminded me of his name just as often as I have reminded him of mine, but despite our terribleness with names we remember our conversations with each other well, and have a decent catch-up and fruitful chat every couple of weeks.
This one may well be worse for me than others because I have an Australian accent in the middle of the US Midwest. I therefore find myself always having the same small set of conversations: where I’m from; what I’m studying; how long I’m here for; how I found the winter; does Australia really have all those terrible animals; etc. It’s really nice when I get into a conversation about something other than my newness to church (because I’ve had that conversation a few times already this morning). Simply talking about the sermon, or the content of one of the songs, is an excellent way to get onto ground that is much more fruitful.
So that’s three observations on welcoming, mostly applicable after all the regular advice on welcoming has already played out. I’m interested to hear your thoughts and experiences on the matter too: chime in on Facebook or Twitter.
Photo credit: han.ailes