Easter is next Sunday. If you have been a part of church for any extended period of time, you know that a lot goes into Easter weekend. It is still the highest attended weekend in most churches across America. People will be coming to your church, your church and church leaders have been preparing for them, but have you? The first step towards caring for people in our church isn’t us as pastors, it’s you as members and congregants. You are our first line of interaction with them. So how can you prepare for this Easter?
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 church is not just for you, the church is for us, God’s people as a body.
Being on staff, Sunday’s normally consist of my running to and fro during services, but I am making a conscious effort to at least look at people, and smile as we walk past each other. 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. As Christ’s bride, we have much to smile about. Our smiles communicate our joy, they communicate a welcoming spirit, and they communicate something that blank stares or downward glances don’t. 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. Do they know where it’s at? This is especially relevant at churches like Sovereign Hope where the layout of the building tends to be confusing for new people.
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.
From bathroom locations, free coffee to child care we want to help people who might be new by not allowing them to be overwhelmed by what they don’t know. Our job isn’t to overwhelm them with our own knowledge either, but to tactfully and wisely aid them in areas that will help them feel more welcomed.
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 something Sarah and I have experimented with for the past year. We are young adults with a kid, who also happen to be on staff to work with college students. So if we run into either young parents, newly married folks, or college students, it’s not uncommon for us to ask them if they would like to have dinner sometime. At Easter you may run into more people who want to get in, get out, and get on their way, but I’d rather swing and miss than not step up to the plate at all.
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.
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.
Easter is a huge deal for us Christians. In fact, it’s the deal for us Christians. While our culture may be post-Christian in title, there are still people who will attend church during Easter out of a lingering ideal of religion. Pray for their souls. Pray for your soul. Pray for your other brothers and sisters at church who are going to be in church with you. Pray that God saves people in your church this Easter. Then, put your boots on and get in on the action.