All Are Welcome?
10 Ways of Being Missionally Welcome as a Congregation
by Jon Humphries
Most congregations would think and believe themselves to be welcoming. Whilst this may be true to a degree, it depends on one's definition of welcome. Many congregations who think that they are welcoming are in fact being friendly or superficially welcoming. In post-Christendom society, now more than ever, our churches have to be truly welcoming. This is a key piece in the missional puzzle, because it is not much point inviting or attracting people to explore how belonging to the Church might assist them in connecting with God and God's grace and love, if they come once or a couple of times, but leave because they find make no connections with the gathered community. Thus there is a difference between friendly welcoming and missionally welcoming.
A missionally welcoming Church holds many or all of the following traits:
1. New people are not only greeted as they are entered, but are introduced to some members of the congregation who sit with them an introduce them to others.
2. The whole congregation is primed to be aware of new people and have been skilled to a degree, or at least made conscious, of how to introduce themselves and strike up a conversation with new people to get to know them and build connections.
3. New people talked to are invited to activities of the congregation. This is not just done by giving them a list of things going on (although that is very helpful), but have members of the congregation invite them to be a part of things personally and things that they will be attending themselves and commit to meeting up with the newcomers there.
4. Whilst people naturally hang out with people they share a history and interests with, it is important that new people are invited to join in conversations of friendship circles around morning tea etc and that space is made in the conversation to include the new people, rather than leaving them silent witness to things and stories that they had to have been a part of to feel a sense of belonging.
5. Traditions and things people naturally know from being a part of the community are explained regularly. This not only helps new people understand the meaning or history behind things, but also serves to remind the existing congregation of why things are done as they are done.
6. There is no assumption that people will know what, how or why things are done as they are done. The liturgy or order of service has cues for people which explain and help them understand what and how things are done. These may be verbal or included in the printed order of service or projected order of service. Things like when and where to stand, how to take communion are explained and in each service the availability of kids programs or creche, morning tea etc are also publicised in print or verbally. There is readily accessible information about who the leaders are, what the key activities of the church in terms of faith and discipleship learning, community service, social justice involvement and who key leaders for these activities are and contact information for those wanting to get involved. This can be through pamphlets, noticeboards and/or congregational website. There should also be information about how to contribute finances If your congregation feels that this is unnecessary because there are not often new people, then it is a sign that the congregation is not active or effective in outreach or new strategies need to be explored.
7. New people are followed up. Whilst it is good to have welcome cards and for people to receive a follow-up card or a call following their initial coming to the church and it is helpful to provide them information about activities and opportunities, this is not deep welcoming. People feel welcome when not only those with a welcoming role or responsibility connect with them, but when peers authentically connect with them. Thus it is more effective when members of the congregation meet up with new people and make contact with them to invite them to a BBQ or coffee night or to be part of a Bible study or prayer group which they involved with.
8. People find that the church is proactive in nurturing them in faith and discipleship and takes an interest in how they can support them. After new people have been attending on regular basis and seem to be becoming a part of the community, elders or pastoral leaders and/or the ordained ministry agent should meet with the family and formally welcome them and explain how the congregation works to support people in faith and discipleship, listen and help the people discern where they might be on their faith journey and their faith learning needs and suggest or make invitations to the new people how they might become involved in the faith and discipleship learning activities and opportunities of the congregation. It is appropriate to ask about baptism and confirmation, and if appropriate, offer this to the newcomers.
9. People feel truly welcome when they feel they are integrated into the community by finding that they are not only part of the activities, but have ways to offer and contribute to the life of the community and is mission and service to others. New members should be helped to discern their gifts and talents and find ways to use them in ministry/loving service. All members of the congregation should be engaged in a regular discipline of praxis and regular intentional times of discernment of gifts and talents and call to ministry. It is therefore appropriate once newcomers seem to be settling into the congregation and are active in faith and discipleship learning activities to engage them in a time of discernment.
10. New people are themselves inviting to be welcoming to new people and integrated into the way the community welcomes new members. Nothing says more that you have been welcomed into and integrated into a community than that you are part of the way the community reaches out to and welcomes others. This way the missional welcoming circle/cycle is completed and continued.
Something to think about.