WE ARE … Welcoming! This is a core cultural identity for our congregation.
In our congregation, Easter is the best-attended worship service of the year, AND the one that attracts the most folks who may have had little to do with the church in the past – but who are nonetheless seeking after something that they might not even know how to name. Many of the folks who will come our way will likely be among those who have felt “burned” or “judged” by a previous experience of church, or who have seen hateful groups labeled as “Christian” by the media. And yet something moves inside them – some yearning for some connection to something larger than themselves, something that can feed them in the hungry and hurting and hollow places of their lives.
So let’s remind ourselves of what we know about those who may join us on Easter, and how we can best welcome them:
– Some will come because they saw our church walking past on Rice University’s walking trail. Something spoke to them. Or maybe they have visited our website and are intrigued (as many have told me, “You all seem to practice a Christianity that speaks to me.”)
– Some who come will be long-time “church folks” who understand how worship works, but for whatever reason are looking for some place to re-connect to God in fresh ways, but many others may come with almost no church background at all. They come because they are hungry for “something” that they may not even know how to name – but they are desperately seeking community, nurture, and meaning.
– And what’s more: Many may come very, very tentatively. After all, so many of us can’t truly imagine just how hard it is to walk into a new and unfamiliar place for the first time, a place where you don’t know “the rules” — where to go, what to do when, when to sit and when to stand, and so on. Many are hoping that they might find a church that is more accepting, more welcoming, and will not insist that they have certain views on this or that political or theological issue than they’ve experienced in the past.
– Some will come because they are a neighbor or co-worker or friend whom YOU invited (studies show that 90+% of people who eventually become regular participants in the life of a congregation first came because of a personal invitation!)
So with all that in mind, I want to again ask us to remember the following nine things about how we can best welcome folks on Easter Sunday (or any Sunday, for that matter!):
1. If you are able-bodied, please consider NOT parking in either the north or south parking lots, leaving those spaces for our visitors. Instead, park in the Medical Center Parking Garage on Cherokee, using your entry card you received when you signed up for one.
2. Be extra-alert for folks who are looking tentative, shy, scared, or lost; without “smothering” them, go up to them, welcome them, and try to both anticipate and answer any of their questions (or find someone who can if you don’t know the answers).
3. Be extra-extra alert for folks with children-ask them if they’d like you to show them where the nursery is (in the case of the littlest ones). If they’d prefer to keep their wee ones with them, please let them know that that’s absolutely fine too!
4. If you see folks whom you don’t know, introduce yourself. If they tell you they’ve been members for 97 years, say something like “Great! It’s good to finally get to meet you in person; I’m glad our paths have crossed” or some such. Don’t be embarrassed to mistake an old member for a new visitor! – that’s a wonderful sign of our growth!
5. You may find that there are folks inhabiting “your” pew. Be delighted about that – and keep on walking with a smile on your face for the gift of new faces among us!
6. Speaking of pews, please sit further to the front, leaving the rearward pews for visitors. Don’t make them walk what feels like a very loooooong “on-stage” walk all the way to the front, especially as visitors sometimes come in late and only the very last seats are left.
7. It’s worth repeating again and again and again: Let us make it a rule here that no visitor sits alone, and no visitor ever goes un-greeted. If you see what are obviously visitors – invite them to join you for the After Church Snacks and Fellowship in Knowles Hall and introduce them to others. Or, if you see someone sitting alone in worship, go introduce yourself (even if it means you have to get up and move) and sit in the pew with them. Don’t smother them, but don’t ignore them either!
8. Do you attend a Sunday School class? If you see visitors at the After Church Snack and Fellowship ask them if they’d like to join you in going to the Bible study you attend.
9. And maybe most important of all: if you are EVER faced with the choice between having a conversation with a friend versus greeting and having a conversation with a visitor, choose the latter!!! You can have those conversations with your friends another time; but your conversation with that visitor may make the difference in whether they ever return or not, whether they experienced in a tangible way the love of God!
Come on Easter ready to worship, ready to extend Christ’s welcome to each and all, ready to show folks that the word “church” does not mean “banal, bigoted, or boring” for we know a God of unconditional grace and love for all people – and let us be eager to share that Good News!