Welcoming others, a gift of God’s love

Posted: March 18, 2014 by efenster in Ideas
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UM Faith SharingHow are you intentionally inviting and welcoming guests to your church?  We live at a time when fewer and fewer people are “shopping” for a church.  Rev. Jim Ozier, Church Development Officer for the North Texas Annual Conference, pointed out when he spoke at the Indiana Annual Conference in 2012, that when a church does have first-time guests, there must be a very good reason why they showed up.  Usually there is some special need in their lives that has caused them to seek a church.

I remember years ago working at an inner-city United Methodist church in Fort Wayne.  My job was to help the church  reach those outside its walls and to welcome and celebrate those who visited our worship services.

We would light a votive candle to represent each first-time, local adult guest who visited our church’s services the prior weekend.  We also would always have one unlit candle to represent the fact there were still others God was counting on us to reach.  At the beginning of each service, the worship leader would remind the congregation of the symbolism of these candles.

I remember one weekend we lit over fifty candles celebrating newcomers who attended a special Community Day we held during the prior weekend’s services.  We had encouraged our members to invite their unchurched friends to join us.  We also sent invitations and made phone calls to those who had shown an interest in our church, such as those unchurched families who attended our Vacation Bible School.  We would do three such outreach efforts a year because we found that our members were more likely to invite others if they were given a special reason.  The other two times were Christmas Eve and Easter.

Inviting is only part of our act of hospitality.  Welcoming our guests once they show up is just as important.  Jim Ozzier had a number of great things to say about this during his teaching at the 2012 Indiana Annual Conference.  Here are some of the highlights…

Churches need a cultural change when it comes to how they think of their guests.  First, they typically have more first-time guests than they realize.  And second, when a new person attends worship, does the congregation see a “guest” or a “visitor”?  It’s more than different words; it’s a different mindset.   A visitor is unexpected.  We ask, “Who are those people and what do they want?”  A guest, however, is someone you are anticipating.  You’ve prepared for their visit, and you can’t wait for them to arrive.

The stakes are sky high.  Research indicates that when people look for a church, they are likely to devote six visits to a church or churches.  If they don’t connect, they will likely be unchurched the rest of their lives.  We must not underestimate what’s at stake!

To help raise a congregation’s effectiveness, a church shouldn’t hold just a one-time hospitality seminar for a small group of official greeters.  Instead its leaders should teach on welcoming guests at least annually during the worship services.

5-10-Link Card:  Jim teaches a 5-10-Link methodology.

5 =  (TIME) The five minutes before and after worship service intentionally greet people you don’t know.

10 =  (SPACE) Greet those guests within ten feet of you.

Link = Try to link them together with persons with similar interests.

Names are the reason we hesitate to do this.  We can’t remember names.  It isn’t a sin to forget names.  The sin is letting not-remembering-names be an excuse for not making connections.  Don’t let not-remembering-names stop you from making connections.  Say, “Hi, I’m [your name].  Glad to meet you.”  If they don’t give you their name when they respond, say, “I’m so glad to see you.”  Not giving you their name is their way of saying they really aren’t ready to connect with people, so don’t pressure them.  If they do give their names, however, they are interested in making connections, so follow through.

You never need to ask, “Is this your first time here?”  or, “Golly, I can’t remember your name.”  When you can’t remember someone’s name, you just say, “Help me with your name.”  It won’t offend people, because everyone wants to help.  Typically, if we’ve forgotten a person’s name, we will try to avoid them rather than face the embarrassment.   However, we must not avoid them but to simply ask them to “Help me with your name.”  When you link two people and you’ve forgotten both their names, simply say “Have you two met?”  They’ll likely introduce themselves to each other.

I have heard it said more than once, that a newcomer to worship is not as interested in whether or not a church is friendly as much as if it is a place where they can make friends.  Helping them deepen their relationship with Christ many times begins with you helping them connect with others and to make new friends.  Doing so will increase the likelihood that they’ll continue to attend your church, and, better yet, grow in their relationship with Christ.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development


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