I’m reading just a section from Bob Jackson’s book, The Road to Growth. Here’s a couple of stories that he tells on the subject of church welcoming:
“The Bishop and his wife had been on holiday and were driving home from the airport on a Sunday morning in holiday clothes. As 10:30 approaches and they entered his diocese they decided on impulse to pull into a local church and join the service. They were given a hymnbook and sat on the next to the back pew. As they were saying their prayers at 10:29, heads bowed, the warden came up to them and said, ‘I’m sorry you can’t sit there, that’s Mrs Jones’ pew’. The bishop looked up startled and the warden said, ‘Oh my God! It’s the bishop!’. After the service, the bishop had a little chat with the warden, who ended up repeating, ‘We’ve got to change haven’t we, we’ve got to change!’
And a personal one from Bob:
“My wife and I left parish ministry for an itinerant on. We started going to a nearby church where a friend was the vicar. After five months said to my friend, ‘Okay, I’ve had a rest now, I’ll take a service for you if you like’. Soon I was leading a communion service. At the door at the end of the service many in the congregation thanked me ‘for visiting us today’. We had sat in a pew and worshiped with the congregation of a hundred people for five months and ha not been noticed. I only became visible when I preached… It was easy to attend a service at that church, but almost impossible to join the community. Little wonder that most o the people who tired attending did not stick. They were offered no relational glue.”
Bob talks about churches needing to be friendly and offer friendship. Many people stop going to church by accident, because they ave not been integrated into a community or offered real friendship, or simply they got out of the habit and no-one noticed. Jackson talks about opening the front door of the church in a welcoming friendship and in closing the back door ensureing people don’t simply drift away gradually.
Other points from this same chapter. (pp65ff).
- welcoming is important – but try to introduce yourself, saying something nonthreatening like “I don’t know you, I’m Bob’, rather than saying accusingly “Are you new?”
- Churches need relationship glue – people need friendship as well as friendliness. They need to be able to integrate into the community.
- Larger churches need smaller subgroups to pastorally care for each other and therefore notice when people are ill or not there.
- Congregations should notice newcomers and offer a friendly conversation, as well as point/help the newcomer to integrate into the community. Many people ‘belong’ to Christian community and see it in action before they believe.
- ‘Welcome cards’ only work if followed up quickly.
I’d be interested to hear people’s stories of the welcome they received at church, good or bad.