Fr. Tim Schenck's blog, Clergy Confidential ,
is always a good read. I try to keep his current offering in the Farm's "A Few Good Writers" section.
Although this entry was written to focus on the annual September kick-off season, the message is timeless and certainly worthy to (borrowing shamelessly from Thomas Cranmer's words, living still in the collect for Proper 28) " ... read, mark, learn and inwardly digest ...". Our challenge, as always, is to turn the words into action regardless of the time of year. Hey, you never know! Like it says in Hebrews 13:2, 'Be not forgetful of hospitality to strangers, for thereby
some have entertained angels unawares.' Let's welcome the saints, sinners and angels among us.
Post-Labor Day Church: 5 Ways to Welcome Newcomers
of the things churches take very seriously is the Sunday morning
welcome. We have ushers and greeters and newcomers’ packets and welcome
tables during coffee hour and signs proclaiming "All Are Welcome!"
posted everywhere. Recognizing that walking into a church for the first
time can be intimidating, a tremendous amount of effort goes into making
visitors feel welcome.
some parishes do this better than others. I’ve personally had every
experience from being completely and utterly ignored to being treated
like a minor celebrity. There’s a fine line between genuinely feeling as
if people are glad you’re there and feeling as if the congregation is
simply desperate for new blood — in a vampire, blood-sucking kind of
this whole idea of welcome isn’t simply a veneer of good manners. And
hopefully it’s not just the adoption of certain best practices from the
hospitality industry, as passed on through the filter of church growth
Rather, if it’s authentic and not just self-serving, welcoming the stranger is a spiritual endeavor. It’s the whole idea of treating one another as if we are encountering Jesus himself. In
Matthew’s gospel, Jesus even identifies himself as the stranger to be
welcomed when he says, “Just as you did it for the least of these, you
did it for me.” So welcoming the stranger is not just about being
polite, it’s about being a Christian.
Never is this as apparent as that first Sunday after Labor Day. In many parishes, this is the great dividing line between the loose-goosey,
informal summer time and the get-back-to-the-fall-routine that begins
the Program Year. Other than, say, the Christmas and Easter services
that draw many people who have no intention of attending church more
than twice a year, September has a different vibe. This time of year, in
addition to welcoming back parishioners who have drifted away but want
to be more intentional about regular worship, we welcome many newcomers
searching for a church home, intent on finding a community of faith.
other words, September offers us a unique opportunity to welcome the
stranger. And it begs the question, are you ready and willing to do so?
While there are many strategies to an effective newcomer program, here's a quick and dirty fall checklist:
1. Update the Website.
Is the fall worship schedule posted? Have you removed references to
Holy Week 2014? Remember, the website is your parish's "virtual usher"
-- it's the first place all visitors go before entering the worship
2. Update Newcomer Packets.
You do have these, right? A simple folder with (at a minimum), a
welcome letter, contact information sheet (and what to do with it),
general info about Sunday School and upcoming programs and events.
3. Schedule Ushers and Greeters.
As the crowds (hopefully) show up, there's often general, if holy,
confusion as many enter the doors for the first time. Are there people
on hand to direct people to the worship space? To walk new families to
the nursery or Sunday School area rather than just passively pointing
4. Social Media Strategy.
Be intentional about what's posted on the parish public pages. Let
people know about service times and other upcoming special events. This
may not be the time to wade into controversies over liturgical minutia.
If you've ever considered purchasing a Facebook ad, this would be the
time to try it out. Encourage parishioners to invite friends to try out
5. Don't Just Talk About Welcoming, Be Welcoming. At the announcements, don't talk about how welcoming your parish is, simply be
welcoming. Help people who look confused during the liturgy, invite
people to attend coffee hour, resist the temptation to catch up with all
your friends -- talk to newcomers first, then catch up.
The upshot is that when
we get to that post-Labor Day crush and people scramble to return to
the fall routine, be intentional about your welcoming (yes, even if
someone you don’t recognize sits in your pew). It’s not just the responsibility of the ushers or the clergy to welcome strangers. It’s up to you. Even if it takes you out of your comfort zone to reach across the aisle and offer words of introduction and encouragement.
This is what building up the Body of Christ looks like. And we're all invited to do our part.