"Becoming a Welcoming Church"

I just finished Thom S. Rainer's book titled "Becoming a Welcoming Church." I have always thought of our church as a "welcoming" church. I mean, I've been to other churches that pretty much ignore first time visitors when they walk in the door. I have never felt that in our church. But then again, I'm not a visitor to our church.

The purpose of Rainer's book is to get you to take a step back and look at your church from a "First-Time Attenders" perspective. I was challenged to look at our church not as the pastor, or even member, but as someone looking for a church home.

Before reading, I would say we are "welcoming." After, we have some work to do. Not a lot, but we aren't prefect and there are some things we can do to make people looking for God more welcome in our church. The great part about Rainer's book is that it gives very practical application, things you can look at changing in order to help your first time guest feel more comfortable.

For example, we have always had a time of greeting in our church. Our worship leader starts with a song. When it's finished I walk up and welcome everyone to church. Then I say something like this, "As we begin our service lets take a moment to greet each other." This is something we have been doing for years. This is something that churches all over the world have been doing for years. It's something that 9 our of 10 visitors wished churches wouldn't do because one of two things happen to them. 1) They are completely ignored, making them feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. 2) The are bombarded by people over enthusiastic about them being in church that they can't help think, "What's wrong with this church that they are trying so hard to impress us?"

Either way we loose. So I decided, with the support of our staff and leadership to do an experiment. I reasoned that we already greet each other before the service even starts. Seriously our church talks a lot (Yeah I'm talking about you). Let's just cut the greeting time, spare our first time attenders the uncomfortable interaction, and see who notices.

Three people! Three people came up to me over the course of 8 week and asked "Why? Why aren't we doing the greeting anymore?" When I explained, the response was the same, "That makes sense."

It's simple things like this that Rainer talks about in his book that can be implemented into your attempt to attract and engage your first time attenders. We are continuing to do an audit at NECC in order to identify other areas that we can change or adjust to help people searching for God feel more welcome. We have already identified a few more that we are currently working on, but we would appreciate your prayers as we continue our efforts.

P.S. For those of you who don't like that we cut the greeting time let me encourage you... You don't need a special time in the service to walk up to someone and say "hi." As a matter of fact, going out of your way on your own would mean more than any "greeting time."

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