Church and stuff

When thinking about how to run a church that is friendly to newcomers we often look to the best and coolest new programs. We allocate special welcomer people with shiny introductory packs. We even have people on the door who shake hands with everyone as they come in.

I think this falls short for two reasons…
Firstly a large proportion of people I believe choose a church because it is a loving welcoming community.

They look for a place where people have a genuine love and care for each other. These things speak powerfully to a new Christian or non Christian visitor. I reached this conclusion while chatting to a couple of people (independently) last week. I asked them for the reasons why they choose/joined their particular church.

In both cases the reason given had nothing to do neither with programs, nor great Bible teaching, “inspiring worship” or fearsome evangelistic zeal. They choose their church because they felt welcomed into a loving caring environment. In my past church experience we have worked at having great teaching but neglected to work at having a warm loving environment where newcomers and members could feel at home.

You might be feeling a little smug at this point “My church does community very well thank-you very much.” But I’d want to bring you to my second reason… Often we do community in a way that isn’t welcoming.

I’ll explain what I mean with a question. “How easily and readily is a new person incorporated into your community?” So often I have seen communities and been to churches that reassemble impenetrable fortresses where trying to join the “in crowd” is like your Grandma turning up to a rock concert.

I’ve visited churches in Hobart even where I know many of the people but still feel very much left out of the clique and in group (maybe cause I’m not cool). It should also be noted that I’m generally an outgoing person.

To address the situation I have two action points. Firstly we’d do well to learn from some more of the (dare I say it) Pentecostal churches that are warm and friendly and really work at having more caring environments. Secondly we must work on opening our cliques up to new people, watch for them and welcome them in.

supportMIKE wants you to think about how to do church community better.



aus_chick said... 9/29/2006 2:44 am  

Moving to a new city, new state, new country, and knowing absolutely nobody, made me want to find a church where I saw genuine community - where people came up to me and genuinely made an effort to make me feel welcome. First and foremost, I wanted, needed, friends. I went to one church that had a greeting team, and a member of that team would introduce you to a few people and then sit next to you during the service. That was nice, but after the service, they vanished straight away. I stood around near a few "established church groups" after the service, but no one made an effort, so I left. Other churches just ignored me completely (in fact, i sat next to one girl who promptly moved into the next seat), and others asked for my email address to invite me to follow up events, but never actually followed through with the "send email" bit. I love the church that I go to now. People are genuinely friendly, and after every service, a group of us round up any new comers and invite them out to lunch. Because of the experiences I've had in finding a church, I can sympathize with newcomers and do my best to make them feel genuinely welcome.

Monkeywrenchmel said... 9/29/2006 8:52 am  

This is the hardest thing for a church to "do". Best thing is having small groups and plugging those small groups. I try to go up to as many single women as possible and introduce myself after service. I also try to get their cell phone numbers to chat.

I find men think often I am picking up on them if I am too friendly coming up to them so I don't generally make a habit of going up to the single menz that come to my church. But since my church has more menz than ladeez, it works out for the best (some dude always seems to find the new guy).

sherrin said... 9/29/2006 3:25 pm  

I think you are right, Mike. Good post.

I came to Crossroads because I had friends there. Most people are probably like that. However, things like teaching are also important to me now.

Felicity said... 9/29/2006 10:11 pm  

A good post to ponder......

Your not "uncool" Mike. But a friend of mine did recently describe you as eccentric. Wouldn't you so rather be described as eccentric than cool :)

The best welcoming I've experienced is at Dubbo Presbyterian Church. They refer to church as their " church family".

When there was a wedding in Canberra the people from evening church all went out for a coffee together in between the wedding and the reception - that's what they're like - everyone does everything together. Sure there's special friendships but you can rock up to most things - or invite yourself along.

Every week they would have after-super-super at someones house after church and supper at church had finished. There would be more food and crazy activities like sock wrestling or a massive game of Taboo.

One of the older women from church used to have me over to her house for dinner every week. She has always had young women over for tea - looking after those who are far from their families by welcoming them into her family. I had dinner with the Ferres' every Monday night for 2 years. Now that I'm gone she has another girl over for dinner every week. Her ministry keeps going.

You can read about younger women older women in Timothy - but at DPC I got to experience it.

I saw the older sister of one of the girls I used to read the bible with at a wedding in Sydney on the weekend and I lost it - started bawling. Why? Because I really really really miss my church family in Dubbo.

Felicity said... 9/29/2006 10:19 pm  

Ps. I'd like to add that I went to DPC without shopping around for a church because it was the only evangelical church in Dubbo.

I have left a church in the past because it might've been friendly but the bible teaching was woeful.

The reason DPC is a welcoming church family is that all it's programs and activities are built on prayer and the bible.

hugo said... 9/30/2006 10:55 pm  

If community is not something you are, then it's probably not something you can do.

Jonny said... 10/01/2006 12:40 pm  

When Crossroads was mostly single uni people, a group of people would go to a cafe or something after, regardless of the late hour. Or to someone elses house. Or we would just go to someones house almost uninvited, anytime in the week. Now people are married with jobs they just want to go home after church.
When I was young my parents did a bit of church hopping. We would get invited as a family to sunday lunch. Some families expect to have visitors for lunch, and they go to church looking for someone to bring home.
At the reformed church (dutch), they would go home 5min after the service, but they would spend that 5min in a deliberate and dirrect way to do all their networking and organise who was coming home for lunch.
At the Anglican church down the road (english) people would hang around up to an hour after the service drinking tea, just hoping to bump into someone.
It's maybe an exageration. We do have some hang out time at church, and we are getting better at social events. I just watched a movie with the guys last night, maybe more newcomers could be invited.

Pablo said... 10/02/2006 12:20 am  

Pablo's mum, actually: This is a very important issue, Mikhael, one which I've been pondering and anguishing over for the better part of a few years. I know that preaching the Word faithfully is the most important thing a church should be doing, but church is also meant to be a family. A lot of people (myself included) put a lot of distance between themselves and their biological family when they become a Christian, and God certainly calls us into a family relationship with our fellow Christians. I think that we need to work a lot harder at developing strong familial bonds and friendships between church members in our evangelical churches. In that way, I agree with your point about us learning from pentecostal churches in this area. But I wonder how much committees, action plans and sermon applications can make this happen. People of cyberspace: how do you organically cultivate friendships and a sense of community within a church? I'm lost for ideas. Church can be a very lonely place when you feel like you don't fit in. I'd like to help people to avoid feeling like that. It sucks.

Priscilla said... 10/07/2006 12:11 am  

We were newly-weds and brand new to the community when my husband and I started attending our church. It was quite small. About 200 people. Newcomers were relatively easy to recognize. We felt very welcome. People were friendly and loving...and best of all they included us. They used to have this activity called "Dinner for 8." We were encouraged to sign up for that and got together for dinner with 6 other people...each bringing a dish to pass. It was a fun way to meet people. It usually was a mix of ages too. Then we joined a small group with a few other young couples. Our small group was called "Young marrieds." They were almost all strangers to one another at the first meeting. What a great group of friends that turned out to be. Never laughed so hard in my life!!

Our church (which is called Crosswinds) has since then grown to about 1500 people. It is a little harder to recognize newcomers with so many people attending. Especially with 3 different services. This was a problem. Someone came up with the idea of a welcome center within the church for newcomers. It is a glassed in area of the lobby. Some regular attenders are assigned to be in there each week after each service. Coffee is served and people are greeted warmly. People visiting are encouraged to come to this center. It's a fairly new idea and I think it has helped some. Because it is glass, it helps other people to see who's there and to welcome them later. Newcomers still must take initiative to go there...which doesn't always happen. Our church also has new attendee picnics. There is something magic I think about food in the equation of getting to know others.

I think this is a common problem all over the world about how to make people feel welcome. It is just human nature to stay in our comfortable and familiar groups. I think we need to train ourselves to think outwardly and look for people on the outside and welcome them in. It's not even just churches. Ever been the new kid in school? But as representatives of the body of Christ, it is particularly important to show the love of Christ by being friendly and welcoming.

Johnny's mention of the reformed church brought back memories. My mother's family is from the Netherlands and I attended a Christian Reformed Church as a kid. Dutch people are big on coffee. Groups would stand around and drink coffee and some groups would even have their conversations in Dutch. It seemed very clicky. Not exactly the warmest reception. I didn't have a dutch last name because my father isn't dutch (no Vans or Vanders in my name...or sma's or stra's at the end). I also did not attend the Christian school they ran...which always made me feel like an outsider. As a teen I attended a different church and whole new world opened up to me.

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