No such thing as a “friendly church”

by the Rev. Phil Hirsch

1404siwelcomeClose your eyes. Recall a time when you were a stranger. Did something happen to warm that time with a glimmer of belonging?

For a first-time guest at your place of worship, there is no such thing as a “friendly church.” But we can anticipate the emotion-rich entry of a newcomer, and purposefully plan welcome on three levels. Through an initial experience, small group connections, and friendship making, here are some ideas to foster belonging.

INITIAL EXPERIENCE

  • Design website for first-time guests
    • DO: include “About the Pastor,” brief welcome, what we believe, photo of building from the street, photo of front doors, parking information, pictures of real members’ faces, worship times, addresses
    • DON’T: post things that will go out-of-date unless you have a plan
  • Put signs EVERYwhere
    • Plaster every exterior door (especially those that are always locked), and inside directing toward bathrooms, worship space, nursery and  coffee
  • Recruit two non-grumpy greeters at the exterior doors before and after service
    • DO: hold the doors open, ask visitors with kids if they’d like the nursery, recruit & training inside greeters/ushers
    • DON’T: Shake hands
  • Improve bathrooms to be “Banquet Hall” quality
  • As pastor, introduce yourself (at worship and in person), welcome guests, and make the next step clear (such as a new member class, 10 minute after-worship time, pizza with the pastor, mission project, dinner, Bible study, etc.)
  • Provide a way for guests to give contact information for follow-up
  • Stage feedback opportunity by inviting someone NEW, and who fits the demographic of who you’d like to see more of in your congregation, to visit and tell you about their welcome and worship experience
  • Plan follow-up for first- and second-time guests
    • DO: have the pastor do this, make it personal and tailored to the information given (i.e. email for email, letter for street address), and have something for second- and third-time guests who are showing real interest in your church

CONNECT GUESTS WITH SMALL GROUPS

  • Develop a list of small group opportunities to invite guests to try
    • DON’T: assume long-term groups will be friendly to newcomers, no matter what they say
    • DO: create new small groups for newcomers (tables of eight work well), and have a way for small groups to connect with newcomers
  • Create a prominent, easy-to-find and well-stocked “Information Center” at the church. Provide information on small groups, other ways for guests to connect and new membership classes. Have information on what it means to be a Lutheran.
  • Make a clear path to involvement and membership

HELP GUESTS FIND NEW FRIENDS

  • Make friend-finding a stated goal of the church (for example: “Our goal is to help people make three new Christian friends.”)
  • Train (disciple) and follow-up with small group leaders
  • Ask existing members to make one new friend this year. Teach about this. Give people words to say and small steps to take.
  • Appoint a paid staff person to track guests for 90 days. Have them oversee, evaluate and constantly adapt these processes measuring how many people connect and at what points. (In a small congregation, the pastor needs to do this as a priority.)

On first approach, there may not be such a thing as a “friendly church.” But there can be a place of welcome that helps guests make meaningful connections.

“You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” ~ Deuteronomy 10:19

 

 

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