A Biblical Basis for Welcome!
One of the reasons – maybe the prime reason – why we study the Bible is that it reveals to us aspects of God’s character. As we consider his characteristics – what he is like, how he acts and speaks – and as we begin to try to be like him, that can truly affect the way we think, act and live towards others.
Whilst one verse is hardly a summary of the Scriptures, John 3:16-17 shows us the great reality of God’s plan revealed in the Bible…
John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
In other words when we were incapable of moving towards God – he took the initiative, at great cost to himself, to rescue us and draw us back to himself.
Romans 5:8 “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
There’s a song that was around in the 80’s – we don’t use it much anymore – it went like this;
Father welcomes all his children
To his family through his Son.
Father giving his salvation,
life forever has been won.”
(© Ring of Praise)
Or maybe better is the parable of the prodigal son – which really we should rename as the parable of the forgiving or welcoming father.
Have a read of Luke 15:11-32. For a searchable online Bible go to http://www.biblegateway.com/
What we find at the end of the parable is the father waiting for the son – in fact going out each day to look for and wait for him – it’s not really about the son who was foolish but about the father representing God the Father – his love and welcome for all who turn away from their sin and turn to him – who say with the son “I am not worthy to be called your son”… only to have the father forgive and welcome us into the fullness of life in his house.
Take a look at the following passages and consider what they say about welcoming – what does each passage tell us about God’s character, what commands or exhortations are there, how might you apply them today, practically in your church?
Leviticus 19:33-34; Luke 14:12-14; 15:1-7; Hebrews 13:2; Matthew 11:28-29; 25:31-46; Mark 9:36-37; 1 Peter 4:8-10; Acts 28:30-3; Romans 12:9-16
Pragmatic Reasons Why Welcoming Is Essential?
- It is a sign that points people to the gospel. Our God is a welcoming God. When we warmly and lovingly welcome people we demonstrate God’s love and point them to Jesus.
- People going into new and unfamiliar situations feel anxious and need to be put at ease. Have you ever been to a function where you knew no one – say a wedding or Christmas party? People attending church are in a very unfamiliar setting – even if they are used to the church they are not used to your church.
- Today’s society is highly mobile – 17% of Australians move every year, a further 39% move every 5 years. In churches it is not uncommon to find that 50% of the current members have been in the church for less than 5 years (NCLS). These people are looking not just for Christian input and fellowship but also for friendship and community. The same thing applies when people have other major changes in their lives – baby’s, marriage, moving, death, illness and hospitalisation, a job change or unemployment – all of these can open people up to be receptive to new ideas and new commitments. Often we find people in these circumstances rocking up to church.
- Each generation seeks different things – though that’s probably far too general a statement. For example, Gen X are apparently becoming disillusioned with the results of the ‘me’ generation – and many are revisiting old values – including the church. Denomination doesn’t matter – warmth, friendliness, relevance and ‘style’ do matter. They ask first “what will I get out of this for me?” before they ask any other question – does it meet their needs, and their families’, is it life affirming and positive. This is the supermarket generation – they shop around. Baby boomers might stick it out, Gen X may not. (This requires far more teasing out than one brief paragraph – but it’s worth understanding generational differences to consider what they are looking for in a church.)
- Churches grow from newcomers if they have good systems for not only accessing new people but also of welcoming them into the life of the church and helping them be and feel included. This sort of church asks questions like “What does it feel like to come here if you’ve never been before?” or “How can we make what we say or do more accessible to the non-churched person?” This means thinking outside of our own needs and desire – especially for comfort and the security of a non-changing environment and seeking the good of others.
- Broken relationships are affecting more and more people in our community – divorce, separation, abuse, and family breakdowns. The whole concept of ‘family’ has changed to accommodate the vast proportion of people who do not conform to the standard pattern of 50 and even 20 years ago. All this is a good thing – because the church is the community of the broken;
Matthew 5:3-6 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
We tend to forget! The church is not for the beautiful and rich but for the people who know they aren’t!
Welcoming – Sunday Services
We have a tendency to see welcoming as a small job – maybe the problem is the word ‘welcoming’. It’s far too limited when it is trying to describe one of the largest and most important ministries in the church. Welcoming is front line ministry – how people are greeted and dealt with as they arrive and on subsequent days and weeks is all-important. We want them to come here – we want them to hear the gospel and be converted, we want them to grow and to mature with us. Our task is to…
…new members into the life, joy and ministry of this church. This is especially true if they’re from the local community and the suburbs where we live and serve, or they have some connection with the church.
Welcoming is also more than those who are rostered on. I think every church needs welcomers rostered on. I guess we might call them ushers and greeters – they hand out books and literature, field questions, direct people to services and amenities and take up the collection. But welcoming is every active member’s task every week, and must be more than those who are rostered on if we want to really welcome people into our church community.
Important Steps to Welcoming
1. Understand that welcoming – the role you have as a welcomer (whether rostered on or not) – is a vital ministry.
In which case we should be praying for the ministry we do and being prepared for it, spiritually and physically. Do you pray that you will have opportunities to welcome people and introduce them to your church? This is a Christian Ministry role – like all others we should have people committed to reading their Bibles and praying in the role. So how’s your spiritual walk going? Have you dressed appropriately for the task and for your church? Showered and shaved (blokes) or whatever it is you need to do to be attractive – you represent not only the church but also the gospel. Do you see the task as an important one worth spending time and energy on?
2. Apply the BELL principle – Be Early, Leave Late – and be prepared.
Have a good rest the night before so that you’re not tired and grumpy at church (this is good advice in any case). Be early enough to get ready – books and papers in place and ready to catch everyone who comes in. and preparation means more than just the right things to hand out. Come early enough to clean up anything that is messy; arrange chairs or whatever is required, to get things in order, to find out what needs to be handed out. Early enough that you can set yourself and your family up in whatever position you wish to have and are ready for church yourselves.
3. When people start arriving – old or new faces – be welcoming.
Seriously – it’s not that hard. A smile, a kind word, a joke (not at their expense), a firm but gentle handshake – all good stuff. But more than that – be aware of the people. Who are they – why are they here – who have they come with – are they locals or not, visitors or checking out the church? People come with all sorts of reasons uppermost in their minds and hearts. Some will come because a loved one has died and they don’t know what else to do – so how we greet that person will make a big difference. Problem is you can’t know – but you can be sensitive and watching. (See list below of some of the reasons people might walk in the door).
4. With newcomers and visitors our task is to make them feel welcome and comfortable.
It’s the task of the gospel to make them feel uncomfortable. So they need somewhere to sit, a drink maybe, to know where the toilets and kitchen are. If they have children they need to know about Sunday school, crèche and the parent’s room. Even more important they need to know that their kids are welcome – so tell them. And not just tell them but welcome and pay attention to the kids as much as the adults. A kind word about kids will have a positive effect 1000’s of times greater than any other comment. A kind conversation to kids (not down to!!!!) will provide an incredible welcome. People love it when you acknowledge their children as worthwhile and valuable enough to talk to!
- Offer to escort people to an appropriate seat – not right down the front, nor directly in the centre. They may refuse the help – but it’s unlikely. The best places for new comers are the sides and rear – not against the wall and not right at the back but in the congested areas. Try to seat them with similar people if you can – and introduce them to people who can look after them. After an appropriate time, you can say something like; “I’ll leave you in the capable hands of John” and then you can go do other things. Don’t dump them and run – you’re the only familiar face they have so far and John could be a mass murderer for all they know.
- Offer them coffee and tea if it’s on before church. (If you want to get people to church early – put on great coffee and tea for people to pick up before church. What a great thing to be able to sit and relax at church with a cuppa before church starts!)
- Point out where the toilets and facilities are.
- Offer them the church literature – newsletter, brochures etc – gives them something to read in the sermon J!
- Ensure you give them a communication card and pencil – ask them if they would fill that in so the leadership team can contact them during the week just to say hi. (What do you mean your church has no communication card?)
- It can be worth pointing out the minister – ministers – but only if it fits in. You could say something like “Have you met our minister? That’s him with all the grey hair – if you like I could introduce you after church?” Easy!
5. After the service it’s important to go back to them.
Ask them how they liked the service etc and ask them if they’d like to meet the minister. In almost all cases they will say yes – so set it up. But don’t cut and run – introduce them (use their names) and stick around so that the minister can move on without abandoning them.
6. Make sure that they aren’t left totally lost and alone.
Especially getting morning tea/supper. It can be daunting getting to the coffee and tea – especially if you have people who are not intent on welcoming newcomers, so they stand and chat to the servers and get in the way. Help newcomers out. Offer to get them a cuppa, or to beat a path for them. Make sure they get something to drink and eat – the kitchen helpers will know where extra food is if it has run out.
7. Try to notice they are leaving.
Recognition is a big deal – people want to come and be recognised as having value – including the fact that we enjoyed meeting them and look forward to seeing them again next week. If you’re not standing with them then pay attention to what they are up to and break off your own conversation and farewell them properly. Offer them your phone number and name if they have any questions during the week.
8. Contact them during the following week.
Here’s where welcoming starts on the road to invitation and integration. If you’ve been welcoming on the weekend and struck up a bit of a repour with someone then the very best thing you can do is to contact them, either by phone or mail, just to say how enjoyable it was to meet them and to offer them your expertise in joining in with the life of the church – if you don’t feel like an expert then imagine how they feel.
In many churches this is done by the staff. Ask yourself – would you prefer a staff member (who gets paid to do his/her job) to contact you – or the person who was so friendly towards you (who doesn’t get paid but thought it would be nice to follow up anyway)? People expect the ministry team to make contact – and it’s worthwhile. What they don’t expect – and this will be a nice surprise – is that the people in the congregation care enough to make the effort as well.
- It doesn’t have to be the phone conversation version of ‘war and peace’ – just a simple call to say that we noticed you and want to recognise you as valuable. For example;
- “Hi John – it’s Peter from …………… Church – we met on Sunday morning. I just wanted to catch up with you and say if there was anything you needed or you wanted to ask anything just to give me a call. I hope you/am glad… you enjoyed the service. It would be great to see you and your family again next Sunday – our new assistant will be preaching and he’s pretty good…” etc!
- Now the conversation might go on or it might not – it doesn’t really matter – what matters is that you – a real person rather than a minister has taken the time to call.
Stay tuned for Welcoming 3