I love visiting new churches. I have attended Sovereign Hope for over 19 years now, and in that span I have maybe been to 8-9 other church services. Recently I had to visit a couple churches in town for a project for class and I was struck by how nervous I was as I prepared to go.
Like most of you, I am comfortable at Sovereign Hope. I know the building, I know the order of service, I know where to put my kid and what to do when his number starts flashing at the top of the stage. But when I visit a new church, none of that matters. This church veteran is booted back to a rookie.
The staff at Sovereign Hope has tried to design features into our service to care for visitors in the best possible way. We have an "I'm New Here," section in the bulletin, and information booth in the back, and signs and maps throughout the building. But even the best efforts to communicate through print and graphics can come off as impersonal and cold. The best way to care for visitors is to have a body accustom to caring for visitors. Paul encourages the church in Colossae to be mindful of that idea: "Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be Gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Col 4:5-6)"
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be Gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Col 4:5-6)
The most important step to take towards "outsiders" or visitors, is to show them Christ. This is done primarily in the sermon, but more can be done by you before, during break, and after the service. Here are a few quick things I think will help our body care for visitors in a better, more purposed way.
A smile really does go a long way. You should do this with people you do know, and people you don't know. Church is not an individual venture. Don't be surprised when you go to church and people are there. Often times we come with an isolated and introverted mentality, this is not a good way to care for people.
The last few weeks I have made an effort to smile at people as I am walking around. I have found that this is the easiest way to enter into a conversation with people. Typically you can gauge their body language, and follow up a mutual smile with, "How is it going?" While many new people can be intimidated by someone just walking up and talking to them, leading with a smile and a simple question can often lead them to a place of conversation.
Smile at people in your row, smile at people in the coffee line, on the way to drop off your kids, after the service...etc. When I visited those few churches, I felt welcomed by those who smiled and intimidated by those who didn't. For me a smile said, "Hi, How can I help you?" And a neutral glance said, "I don't know you and I don't care." Be mindful of your smile.
Know Your Church
So you smiled at someone and you are in a conversation with them. Besides getting to know them, how can you help them get to know the church? Do they have kids? Ask them if they know about our children's program. Because our facility is large and disconnected, it can be intimidating for new people to know where and when to send their children.
Do they know about community groups? Most people will not join a community group the first time they visit church, but it is nice to let them know about the groups. When people know that we have a bunch of groups across town that meet throughout the week, they know that we make an effort to bring outsiders to insiders, and that we are committed to caring for people.
Are they in college? Maybe you could grab a flyer for Grizzly Christian Fellowship from the info booth, or introduce them to another student at the service.
The point is that you should know you church, because other people want to know your church.
The point is that you should know you church, because other people want to know your church. We have an info booth at your disposal and it wouldn't hurt to visit it from time to time and get updated on the current ministries and events at church. This will help you guide, direct and care for new people in a better way.
Read the Pitch, and Swing Away
This third way is new to me, but it was something that stood out as I visited other churches. At one of my visits I had really hit it off with an older couple who had smiled at me and my friend, and then started a conversation with us. They left us for the service, but came back at the break and invited us to stay for a potluck at the church. Another couple who I had known already, invited us up to their house for lunch.
Remember, there are some people who God has wired to be introverts. Those people may not want a whole lot of conversation in their first few weeks until they are comfortable with their settings. Others may be more conversational at an earlier date.
But I have a friend who attends another church back east, and he knows people in their congregation who make it a priority to invite a new or existing couple over for lunch after each service. He said that these lunches go a long way to caring for and welcoming people into their church. This is something my wife and I are trying to make a priority of moving forward. She has talked about putting some stuff in the crockpot for after the evening service, and inviting people over then.
Again, I want to emphasize that not every person will be willing or even wanting to have this question asked to them, but if you have done the first two suggestions well, you should be able to read the situation well enough to get a good read. Don't be offended by a "no." And more times than not, that now will turn into a yes as they continue to come back and be cared for by you and the rest of the church. Maybe, to make it less intimidating, your community group wants to do this together. Once a month you have potluck after church and make an effort to invite unengaged or new people to it.
These are all little steps that can go a long way when it comes to caring for new people. They will see Jesus in our preaching, but we want them to also see Jesus in our congregation. Be intentional and thoughtful with new people, most likely you have benefited from those kind of people in your own church life.