Last time, I (Brad Hertzog) gave you the background to this series of what we can learn from some “missional” churches about welcoming people into our churches. Particularly those churches that have some Reformed leanings or commitments (Intro & Background). My work, requiring travel and temporal stays in an area, as well as particular projects for Home Missions involving scouting the church culture of a city led me to be intentional about visiting these churches. I will be bringing you a series of posts about things I’ve seen that sparked an interest for us to consider. Things that in particular they do well in welcoming people or being a “warm” church. I’m not advocating that you must take any or all of these as presented. You will see from the format of each post that we want to get past any initial reflex reaction that focuses only on where we might disagree, but rather consider the principle that might positively improve our practice. We know there are areas where we disagree. But let’s focus on the questions from the last post. What do they do well? What can we learn from them?
1) Opening Greeting – Numerous pastors from these churches take time to thoughtfully welcome people at the start of the service, before the call to worship. One of my favorite examples, which I’ve talked about before, is “Welcome everybody to _______ Church….we’re glad to see you today. We know people are here for all kinds of different reasons—some of you woke up excited like you are each Sunday…..some are hurting but made the effort to come…..some of you don’t know why you are here and that’s cool….and maybe for some of you it’s the day you finally gave into your neighbor’s nagging and you’re hoping now that you gave in, this will end the weekly invite. We’re good with all of you and there’s something for all of you. So hang out and stay with us we’re glad you are here.
Initial Reformed Reaction: That’s a serious moment that’s for the congregation. We ought to be preparing for worship and be quietly in prayer.
The Principle That Transfers: Recognizing the reality of outsiders in your presence and welcoming them in a normal way that acknowledges their reality and experience. And doing it in a normal, 21st century way that they “get.” Our tendency is to say “If you are visiting with us we want to extend a warm welcome to you followed by a multiple choice add on:
a) and we hope you find your time worshipping with us profitable
b) if you would fill out the visitor card so we have a record of your presence with us today
c) we hope to talk to you afterward and get to know you
––to which the outsider hears the following multiple choice:
a) profitable?, the only profit is coming when you pass that plate
b) give you my name and info so you can google me, stalk me, or send me your stuff I don’t want
c) talk to me? So I can feel more uncomfortable than I do now….some welcome….just get me home to the NFL.
So, instead of telling them our welcome is warm and moving on to various in-house announcements, how about we take that first opportunity to speak to them and figure out how to welcome them—warmly–in a way that connects with them (their language, world, and thoughts). Maybe we even use a little humor at times, though we are moments from a call to worship. I can assure you those men who do this gain a good bit of credibility from the outsider and gain a longer hearing….(I’ve talked to them about this). This does take time and preparation to keep it fresh and real each week taking into account your people, size, and number of visitors etc.
And a note here: Even when these examples are of something the pastor or leaders do, it still involves the whole congregation. Everyone needs to be thinking about how to create a more welcoming culture and receive new things for the sake of visitors. I have heard more than a few Reformed people express that a greeting is unimportant or a distraction and we should just get into worship.
Creating a more welcoming culture will require everyone to look at some practical matters with different eyes. Eyes that see visitors and outsiders (or the future hope of having them) and not just the people who are there each week and know what they are doing every Sunday.