Posted by Thomas J. Cook on January 26, 1998 at 15:49:42:
In Reply to: Making People Welcome posted by (anonymous) on January 26, 1998 at 15:19:04:
Making Visitors Feel Welcome
1) The first area where this is important is when a visitor first walks in the door of the church. You have about fifteen minutes to make a good first impression. They will make up their minds about your church that quickly.
At my church, we have greeters at each of the entrances who shake everyone's hand and have a friendly word of welcome. We have a Visitor's Center with information and people who can help everyone find their way to a Sunday School class, including getting their children to the right places, and provide them with a brochure about the ministries of the church. We have ushers in the worship services whose task is to help people feel welcome, find a seat, and have everything they need.
For everyone who is a first-time visitor to our church, we have a team who makes "same day visitation" calls that very same day. We give them time to eat dinner, then drop by their home that afternoon with a magazine from the church.
We don't enter the house, but leave the car engine running while we just visit quickly at the door and thank them for worshipping with us. We are simply "returning the visit." We let them know that someone from the church office will be in touch with them shortly in case they have any questions. This one thing has had more favorable comment from visitors than anything else we have done.
Of course, all this is worthless if the rank-and-file membership of the church aren't truly friendly. Otherwise, it's just a veneer of hypocrisy. Many churches have the problem that many members just don't want new people. This is a real problem, a spiritual problem, which must be dealt with by prayer and solid bible teaching from the pulpit. The congregation needs to understand the importance of their sincerely wanting new folks and their individual responsibility in making them feel welcome.
The rule of thumb in making new visitors feel at home is "the law of seven touches." Each visitor should have at least seven friendly contacts, whether a warm handshake from a greeter, a smile and a word of welcome from an usher, a sincere welcome from a Sunday School teacher, a "same day" visit, a letter of appreciation from the church office, or just a casual but heartfelt "We're glad you're here" from a member. All seven of these need to be connected with their first visit.
If all this goes well, you can get them back for a second visit. For the average visitor, it will take at least three visits for them to consider becoming a part of your fellowship.
2) Assimilating Members
The other side of the coin is how to get new members integrated into the fellowship of the body and comfortable in their new relationship. The secret here is quite similar to above; they must form at least four new friendships within the first four weeks of their involvement, or you are going to lose them. The way this will happen is to get them involved in some small group connection.
This could be the choir, serving as an usher, working with a committee, or whatever situation where they will come in close contact with others.
This will not happen in the large group setting of the worship service. At my church, we rely on the small group setting of the Sunday School class to provide this opportunity. We purposely keep our classes small to promote fellowship and so that relationships can form easily. We assign every new church member to a Sunday School class, where they can form relationships with new members and find a meaningful place of service in the organization of the class.
3) Ongoing ministry to members
Your mail indicates you are already doing this, but I include it for completeness. A crisis ministry and absentee followup is a start, but it really does not go far enough.
At Jersey Baptist, we focus our "inreach" ministry efforts through our Sunday School classes. Every member is assigned to a Sunday School class, and our deacons are each assigned to a class as well.
The deacons and the teacher work together to enlist class members as Care Group Leaders. Each Care Group Leader is assigned 7 to 10 class members as part of his or her care group.
The task is simple: contact every member of your care group every week. Whether present or absent, the member gets a call (or note or visit) which lets him or her know that we care about him.
We collect any prayer concerns or praises to share with the class on Sunday morning.
We make sure we know about any crises which may require further ministry (in which class the Sunday School class would take on the responsibility of providing meals, child care, transportation, or whatever the ministry need might be--calling on other resources as necessary).
We commuicate any information the member might need about upcoming class functions or church emphases. This ongoing communication and watchcare goes a long way to make sure our members are taken care of.
This type of ministry requires an organization of small groups to administer; the Sunday School is ready-made to handle it; why not use it?
4) Organizing in your own setting
What works at my church will most likely not be the best for your situation. Every congregation is different. My suggestion for how to approach this in any setting is to form a committee or task force or work group, whatever works in your environment, consisting mainly of folks who have very recently become members of your body.
Those who have been around for more than six months will no longer remember what it was like to come into the building for the first time.
The new members will know what went right and what went wrong, and they will have the best ideas on how to do it better. Empower this group to provide recommendations to the governing body, and pay careful attention to what they recommend.
[The rest of the
story might well be filled in by "exit interviews" in which you ask those who have dropped out to frankly share the reasons why in a sincere effort to learn from your mistakes and improve.]
Some areas to consider:
And so forth...trust your newer members to ask the right questions.
Hope this helps!
Thomas J. Cook
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