The Rev. Canon Neal O. Michell is the Canon to the Ordinary with the Diocese of Dallas. This essay is an excerpt from his book, How to Hit the Ground Running: A Quick-Start Guide for Congregations with New Leadership (2005: Church Publishing).
Growing churches are welcoming churches
Many growing congregations grow, not because they have a particularly excellent newcomer’s ministry, but because they are a welcoming congregation. Although it certainly helps to have a quality newcomer’s ministry, many congregations grow because they are, quite simply, welcoming congregations. They are aware of the newcomers in their midst, and they have a value of “welcoming the stranger.”
The following suggestions for becoming a welcoming congregation are not so much programmatic as they are values that individuals can embrace:
1. Remember the rule of 3 to 1
Talk to three newcomers on any given Sunday for every one “regular” person that you talk to. Remember that the church is for fellowship as well as church work and that busy leaders should avoid the impulse to spend times of fellowship doing “business” with other busy leaders.
2. Don’t leave a newcomer hanging
Pass off the new person you’ve just met to someone else. Don’t just greet someone and say, “It was nice to meet you.” Introduce them to someone else. Let your newcomers connect to as many people as possible.
3. Introduce yourself with a question
Many people don’t like to talk to newcomers because they are afraid of embarrassing themselves by mistaking a long-time member with a newcomer. An easy way to get around that fear is to introduce yourself:
“Hi, my name is ________. I’ve been coming here two years. How long have you been coming to this church?”
This open-ended question doesn’t presume that the person you’re speaking with is a newcomer or a member. It allows them to reveal either.
4. Don’t monopolize the pastor
Most newcomers really would like to visit with the pastor or priest. I once visited a church where the line to talk to both priests was about 25 people long. So, I left rather than wait to visit with them. They need to be available to greet new folks. The pastor is one of the greatest evangelistic tools that the church has.
5. When giving directions, take; don’t point
When I go to my local sporting goods store, I’m always so impressed that when I ask for directions, the customer service agent never points me in the direction where I need to go. This person usually walks with me until we get to the department that I’m looking for.
In most of our churches, this kind of personal assistance only takes a minute. Don’t point them in the direction of the nursery, take them there. It is so gracious. (Besides, my mother always told me that is not polite to point.)
6. Have a positive attitude about your church
If you’re not excited about your church, nobody else will be either. A positive attitude is infectious.
7. Don’t just meet, invite and engage
That is, don’t just say hello to the newcomer, find out what his or her interests are and connect that person with an appropriate activity or person in the church, such as ministry, small group, Sunday school class, Bible study, and so forth.