We had a great session last week with Nick Cuthbert, the founder of Riverside Church in Birmingham, who came to talk to us about being welcoming as a church.
I don’t know if this is something you pay attention to at your church…we do, but in the business of everything else which happens on a Sunday (music, media, sound, lights, coffee, cake, the talk…note this isn’t a list of order of importance…if it was then coffee would of course be first….), it can get forgotten, or maybe not fully thought through…
Be Our Guest
Nick was great, having led the church for over 30 years and now working with Lead Academy he had a wealth of experience, knowledge and anecdotes to share with us. So I thought I would share some of it with you:
- Watch your language: It is said it takes 6 – 12 months for people to become fully indoctrinated into a church…and by then they are used to the language, or Christianese as we like to call it. But if you’re coming to church for the first time and they are talking about being washed in the blood of the lamb at the front, or sharing in the peace together, or practicing the Lord’s supper this morning…what would you make of it? Similarly, how would you react if the service leader stood up at the beginning of the service and said “we’re going to worship now…”? Worship what? And how? Does it involve fire? Dancing? Is there a chant which goes with it? So think about your language…we are going to sing some songs together that express how we feel about our faith. We’re going to stop for a bit to greet each other. Today is communion, where we share bread and wine (non-alcoholic) to remember Jesus. Small changes, but language which is understood. And similarly…
- Be inclusive: When it comes to the announcements, or the service order, or publicity, are you thinking about 1st timers? If Geoff is having a mens barbecue at his house on Friday, or Jane is collecting money for Tearfund in advance of her trip to Uganda…it’s all great…but who’s Geoff? What does Jane look like? Thursday Fellowship is meeting this week on…well, Thursday. But what is Thursday Fellowship? Who is it for? Where? When? Why? And when you do these announcements, is it something which the whole church needs to know on a Sunday? If Thursday Fellowship is targeted at our older people, announcing it in the morning service is probably irrelevant to 75% of the attendees.
- Coffee time can be a lonely time: We often start and finish our services with refreshments, and its an opportunity to catch up with friends, recover from the previous service and be social. But it can be part of the problem…as we naturally congregate with our friends who we may not have seen all week, any newcomers can be left, in a corner, by the door with their coffee cup for company. Try to keep an eye out for newcomers, and then be social with them! Something Riverside did was have gift bags for 1st timers…a freebie with info and something nice is always well received, but of course, when it comes to coffee time it is clear to the rest of the congregation anyone holding a gift bag is new (or going to a party after the service…?)
- Smile! We put so much effort into Sundays, from the creative content, to the music, the talk, refreshments (thinking about coffee again…), graphics, cleanliness, tech… But so often it can seem what people are singing, or listening too, may be well received and understood by their heads and hearts…but their faces aren’t necessarily reflecting it. We don’t go to church to have a bad time. We don’t worship a grumpy, miserable God. Our songs and services are mostly joyful, colourful celebrations…isn’t that what “worship” is about? So what would a 1st timer make of a church full of grumpy looking, sighing people? I wouldn’t come back. A smile is something which can be contagious. And finally:
- 1st timers: We’ve always made the point of welcoming our visitors at the beginning of the service, but as Nick pointed out…if you call someone a visitor, does it mean you’re not expecting them to stay? Or come back? So rephrasing as 1st Timers (as you may have noticed I’ve done throughout this post) is another subtle, but inclusive change.
So a short (?!) summary, there was lots more and making sure you are welcoming every week is something which always needs to be addressed. And by everybody…we have a Welcoming Team whose duty is to be welcoming…but really, it’s the job of everybody who is there. Every week. Every day!
All The Time!
So approach every Sunday, every element, every word from the viewpoint of having a room full of 1st timers, and make sure you are addressing all of the above and more.