I am out of town on Study Leave, in fact, on the other side of the country, and so took advantage of the opportunity to worship instead of lead worship last Sunday. I chose the church partly because of what I discovered on their website, which indicated an active, outward looking congregation.
The music was great, the message was great, two things that are key for me, but if I were church shopping I doubt that I would return. And here’s why: the person who handed me the bulletin smiled and said welcome, but didn’t tell me that I needed to pick up hymnbooks too, so I had to go find the bookcase where they were kept after I had sat down. There was another person standing in front of the ‘Welcome Table’ and so I didn’t see the visitor’s offering envelopes or the many pictures of their ministries. I sat in my chair, for the ten minutes before the service started, and NOBODY spoke to me or acknowledged my presence. A few people looked at me, obviously aware that I was new, but then looked away when I smiled.
This church, like many churches, probably prides itself on being friendly and welcoming. Their friendliness and welcome towards each other was evident in the buzz of conversation before the service started, but I felt isolated and alone.
It takes SO little to make a visitor feel welcome!
- Acknowledge their presence! That doesn’t mean asking them to stand up and introduce themselves, it means keeping your eyes open for those you don’t recognize and speak to them BEFORE the service starts if they are there before the service starts. Don’t wait till the end because by that time you have already been judged as unfriendly.
- Make sure the things that ‘everybody knows’ are made clear!
- Have clear signage! And lots of it, if you think you have too much, you are probably on the right track.
- Clearly indicate in the bulletin when you should sit and stand, or at least make that clear verbally.
- Invite a newcomer for coffee afterwards, two couples spoke to me at the end of the service, but neither of them invited me downstairs.
I love ministry and I continue to believe that the church has a message that is relevant in this world. But that message can’t overcome lack of welcome. We are the hands and feet and heart and mind of Jesus and so is that person who came in the door for the first time. When we welcome the stranger, we have the opportunity to both BE Christ and RECEIVE Christ.
What are some other ways in which a church can welcome newcomers?