A friend and colleague once visited me at a former congregation. he enjoyed the worship. He appreciated the congregation's commitments. He also remarked to me later that the entire time he was there no one greeted him. No one introduced themselves to him.
That church thought of itself as a welcoming place and in many ways, it had made strong stances on inclusivity on a number of fronts, the people were kind and caring, and they were rather self-reflecting on how they practiced being community.
Sometimes, however, it's the little things (which aren't so little when they add up) that slip through the cracks. These are things we often take for granted after we have been coming somewhere for a while. A good exercise is to imagine coming to Westminster for the first time. What questions would you have? Would you know where to go? Would you know what to do when? How would you feel around hundreds of strangers, especially in a religious setting?
With that in mind, with new members in our midst, and with visitors regularly checking out Westminster, here are a few things all of us can do to make this community a truly welcoming place to newcomers:
- Wear your nametag. This allows people to call you by name, identifies people who can answer basic questions, and spares the embarrassment of people asking multiple times (often, they opt instead to avoid the contact rather than ask again).
- Introduce yourself when you see a new face and the first three times you see them, again taking the pressure off of them to remember.
- Take the opportunity to introduce them to others at the church. Coffee hour can be an intimidating time if you don't know anyone.
- If you can, extend the introduction beyond the morning greeting. If it feels right, invite them to lunch after church or coffee some time. Get to know them better.
- Get a sense of what they care about and if there are things at the church which align with their interest or skills, make the connection for them.
- Give them the space to simply come and be filled. Often churches, out of good intentions, "pounce on visitors" overly eager at a fresh face. Many times, people start coming to a church because they are experiencing difficulty or are feeling depleted. A you are friendly and inviting, be sensitive if someone clearly needs simply to spend some time just coming and being blessed by the church before you recruit them to do things.
I know your are welcoming, kind, and inviting. Let's be sure all those who come to visit, whether it's for worship or any program at the church experience that welcome in tangible ways. These days people do their "church shopping" (I don't like that metaphor, but we all sue it) online. We have a new church website coming, and when it goes live, I expect our number of visitors to increase. Let's continue to practice our welcoming in big and small ways so re're ready to receive each person as we'd receive Jesus.
God's Peace, Rob