Meeting The Needs Of Newcomers

Neal Pollard

It has been said that visitors make up their mind about a church in the first ten minutes of their visit. Before they’ll even discern the doctrine we teach or form an impression about the distinctiveness of our worship, they’ve already decided. If you will walk through the first ten minutes of each time you come to services, you can discern the needs visitors have when they “enter” (cf. 1 Cor. 14:23-24) our midst. Consider these needs.

  • Where to park. Designating visitor parking and having members park as far from the main entrance is thoughtfulness. Having a greeter or greeters in the parking lot who can make contact quickly and facilitate with friendliness makes a positive impression.
  • Where the restrooms are. Good hospitality ought to drive us to be thoughtful and even proactive (i.e., when greeting, point out the nearest facilities). Along with this is showing them where the nursery is. If they have infants, toddlers, or small children, they are likely to have needs during their time in attendance.
  • Where to sit. An obvious practical help here is not to crowd the seats at the rear of the auditorium. It’s less awkward to be seated without parading past rows and rows of people. If there’s a full crowd, have designated personnel, pleasant, friendly, and considerate, to help them find a seat. Never, ever, never have a designated pew! “Pew-itis” is a disease that should be eradicated from every congregation.
  • What to expect. This is something worship leaders can do, explaining periodically why we do what we do in a “user-friendly” (as opposed to browbeating) way. Door greeters and those at a welcome center can help, as can visitor packets that cogently explain things. Such packets can include not just activities we do, but a map of where we do them.
  • How to find out more. Have a “new member orientation class” or a “Church 101” class available for those who are “seeking.” It can include an annual church calendar of events, ministries, church leadership (complete with pictures and bios), ways to be involved, and the like to orient newcomers.

At first, it may seem hard to identify book, chapter, and verse for the foregoing suggestions. But consider these principles. There’s the Golden Rule (Mat. 7:12; Luke 6:31). There’s the principle of the Law of Moses, which says, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34). Colossians 4:5 urges wisdom with outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Being Christians, we should be ever increasing in the mentality that puts others before self (Phil. 2:3-4). How do we best serve Jesus? By serving others, including our visitors and newcomers.

Singing Hymns in Church

Are We A Friendly Congregation?

Neal Pollard

While we must be concerned with doing what we do in worship according to Christ’s expressed will, we must also be sure to reflect His love to strangers, newcomers, outsiders, and otherwise unfamiliar faces. It offends my sensitivities anytime I hear anyone complain that a church I love so much seems cold and unfriendly to them. However, when I see so many focused on one another or on no one or hear accounts of our visitors complaining that we are neither warm nor welcoming, that love motivates me to say something.  Please consider the following principles:

  • We must stop expecting that others will represent us in friendliness. Maybe we look at those seven or eight members of the congregation that “go after” our visitors and conclude that they are covering the bases for the rest of us. In a congregation our size, that is woefully inadequate. They cannot reach everybody, but even if they can their friendliness does not let us off the hook. Dear reader, the chances are great that I am challenging you!
  • We must not use our introverted nature as an excuse. It would be hard to get an accurate estimate, but it is probably fair to say that more of our members are introverted than extroverted. Yet, the introverts may mistakenly conclude that extroverts are merely doing what comes easy and natural to them. As a representative of the extrovert clan, may I suggest that reaching out and connecting with strangers and visitors requires effort. Everyone must make an effort!
  • We must avoid the thinking that the visitor bears responsibility to be friendly. Some visitors may be extroverted and resilient to connect with us, but we’re the hosts and they’re the guests. Think about how hard it is to come into an unfamiliar place where you know no one and reach out to them. This is our “home turf,” and we must always take the initiative!
  • We must practice the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Again, put yourself in their shoes. Treat them how you’d want to be treated if in their place.
  • We must see ourselves as direct representatives of Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:20 calls us just that. Treat visitors exactly like Jesus would. Seek them out and do everything within your power to let them know how glad you are they are here.
  • We must understand the eternal implications of being friendly to visitors. Wouldn’t it be awful if we contributed to seekers, new Christians, and the like being discouraged, even to the point of walking away from Christ and His truth? We cannot minimize the eternal impact, for good or ill, we make by how we do in this matter.
  • We must break out of our ruts and routines. What creatures of comfort we are! What I am talking about requires us getting uncomfortable and changing our current habits. Avoiding eye contact, walking past unfamiliar faces, withdrawing into ourselves, talking only to those who talk to us or those we feel comfortable with may be the niche we’ve carved for ourselves over a long period of time. Confront those well-established patterns and insist on breaking them.

I want our congregation to be known for preaching and teaching the truth, but I want far more for us. Another thing I want is for us to be the church that doesn’t just embrace and accept “our own,” but who is always making room for one more. I’d far rather risk creeping someone out by bombarding them with extreme warmth than to turn a cold shoulder to one who was trying to connect with God. Wouldn’t you?

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What Would Our Slogan Be?

Neal Pollard

A Bear Valley member gave me a mailer she received from a new, area denomination.  The oversized postcard, in attractive colors (the background of which looks to be a paint palette), leads with the header, “Messy Grace.” The subtitle reads, “It’s okay to not be okay.” The brief message beneath says, “God loves you. God cares for you. God wants a relationship with you. NO MATTER WHAT!”  Now, there is a lot of truth in that message, if we don’t necessarily care for some of the jargon. Could it leave a wrong impression? Yes, if the message does not include the response we need to make to His amazing grace. We cannot stay messy, if that means willful sin. But we will all continue to have our messes, even after coming to Him.

But, the mailer itself, with the self-appointed slogan, is what got me to thinking. If our visitors got to write our slogan, what would it be? For some places I’ve visited, it could be the following: “Don’t Sit On My Pew!”, “Race You To The Restaurants!”, “Visitors? What Visitors?”, “Joy Is For Liberals”, or “Are You Ready To Rumble?”  If the Lord wrote our slogan, what would it be?  For some congregations He diagnosed, it was also less than flattering: “We’ve Left Our First Love” (Rev. 2:5), “We’re Following False Teachers” (Rev. 2:14-16), “We Tolerate Immorality” (Rev. 2:20ff), “We Look Alive, But We’re Really Dead” (Rev. 3:1), and “We Think We’re Something Great, But We’re In Really Bad Shape” (Rev. 3:15ff).

Here at Bear Valley, there are several potential slogans I would hope represent who we are and what we are trying to convey by the way we act when we’re together on Sunday and Wednesday as well as our interaction at other times. Here are some good options:

  • “We Love One Another” (John 13:35).
  • “We Walk In Truth” (3 John 4).
  • “We Continue In His Word” (John 8:31).
  • “We Bear One Another’s Burdens” (Gal. 6:2).
  • “We Like Being Together” (Acts 2:42ff).
  • “We Look For Our Lost Sheep” (Luke 15:4).
  • “We Know Who The Enemy Is” (Eph. 6:11).
  • “We’re Not Conformed But Transformed” (Rom. 12:2).
  • “We Put Others Before Self” (Phil. 2:3-4).
  • “We Act Toward Others As If Doing For Christ” (Mat. 25:40).

The thing is, we are going to have a general character and emphasis as a congregation. Whatever we prioritize and do, that’s what it is. It’s not what we say, sing, or “sloganize.” To see it in print is sobering. May we collectively strive to earn a reputation that reveres our Master, reflects our mission, and renews our minds.

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The Same Minute From Many Perspectives

Neal Pollard

A visitor comes to worship services for the first time. This person is searching for meaning, purpose, and answers, perplexed and troubled by life and wanting to know the way. The services have already started, and the visitor slips into the first vacant seat available. This one is intrigued and engaged by what has gone on, benefiting from the preaching, appreciating the singing, and eventually standing with everyone else for a final, uplifting prayer. The visitor has experienced enough to consider returning. The prayer concludes, and the visitor, with everyone else, begins to head for the aisle.

So much, good or bad, can happen in these next 60 seconds.

  • The visitor, not knowing a soul, either stands or slowly walks out of the auditorium, hoping for a friendly face, a smile, or words of kindness and encouragement.
  • The family seated next to the visitor have wrestled their baby throughout services. Exhausted and flustered, they hurry past the visitor never making eye contact.
  • Several members, each on an important “mission,” walk past the visitor to talk to that person or do that thing that, if they don’t hurry, they’ll forget or miss.
  • The visitor does make it to the preacher, shaking his hand and thanking him “for the service.” While standing with the preacher, the visitor notices a handful of those who are apparently members warmly greeting the preacher but feeling the full force of being treated as if invisible by them. These folks are good folks, but they just aren’t observant (or accustomed to being “on the lookout” for visitors).
  • Moving past the preacher, the visitor encounters the eye contact of a few people who politely smile or even say hello. These good people wonder if this is a member, someone they should know, and, afraid to offend this one, do not follow up with conversation.
  • The visitor walks past a shy member, one who would like to greet the visitor but who is afraid of being embarrassed in some way.
  • As the visitor departs, ignored by and large and concluding that while the services were unique and intriguing the people were cold and unfriendly, God looks down from heaven. He has seen that last minute unfold. He knows the tagline under this church’s bulletin masthead asserts that this is the friendliest church in town. He watches members who know one another and are comfortable with each other laughing and talking together, wanting to be together, but are oblivious to the precious opportunity embodied in that visitor. God sees that visitor as a soul precious enough to give His Son for, an impressionable person reached or rejected by the reception (or lack thereof) made by His people. He knows this visiting one has heard truth and experienced worship in spirit and truth, but that this one also believes that the participants are exclusive and disinterested.
  • The devil has to be delighted that this visitor leaves dejected and resentful, determined not to visit that unfriendly congregation again.

Though I would like to say that the scenario above is far-fetched and purely fictional, it is one I have seen play out repeatedly over a quarter-century as a preacher.  Our efforts (or lack thereof) to engage and show interest in those who visit our assemblies is our only opportunity to make the first impression redeemed, soul-conscious Christians should make. We must never assume that it’s others’ job to or that others are doing the job of making our visitors feel appreciated and welcomed. What if every Christian present would take every opportunity presented to make every visitor feel as though they’ve “come home” when they come to our services? Will you consider what you do with your first minute after the last “amen”? Who knows the eternal difference it will make, especially with some soul searching for the Savior?

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How To Make Others Friendlier

Neal Pollard

I am exasperated at how unfriendly the people at church are. They never speak to me.  When they do speak, I feel as though I am simply being tolerated. I do not feel a part of their “crowd.” It is so unfair! Yet, I have the answers for me and any other poor soul who has encountered such unfriendliness when at the assemblies.

I AM GOING TO MAKE EVERYONE CONVERSE WITH ME.  I’ll strike up conversations with everyone at church, including those I hardly even know. To make it better, I am going to find out what interests them so I’ll have plenty to say and hear with the. I’m not going to give them the chance to not speak to me. I will eagerly listen to what they say, and they will think they’ve never met someone so sincerely interested!

I AM GOING TO WEAR A BIG SMILE. I am going to develop a personality so magnetic that no one can resist getting to know me better. My grin will be like an open invitation to visitors and members alike. I bet they’ll wonder what’s gotten into me, that I’m so happy. They’ll be eager to be a part of what makes me so cheerful!

I AM GOING TO DO UNSOLICITED ACTS OF KINDNESS. I’ll send them notes of cheer, cards of sympathy, and letters of encouragement. I’ll visit their sick family members and neighbors. They won’t know what hit them. I’ll pray for those folks down at church…by name…every night!

I AM GOING TO STAY AROUND LONGER AFTER THE LAST “AMEN.” I’ll hang around the auditorium, get to the foyer early enough to catch the early departures, talk to the elderly, the small children, and the visitors. I bet they’ll mistake me for a deacon or an usher.

I AM GOING TO STUDY EVERY PASSAGE ON KINDNESS AND FRIENDLINESS I CAN FIND. I’ll memorize, ” Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). I will model Colossians 3:12: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” I’ll carry a plaque with me that reads, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17). I am going to memorize the beatitudes (Mat. 5:3-12), the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), and the Christian graces (2 Pet. 1:5-7).  I can’t kill them with kindness unless I’ve got my guns loaded.

Now I’m ready! Those unfriendly folks at church don’t stand a chance. I’ll melt every cold stare. I’ll dodge every harsh word. I’ll reflect every criticism with the shield of warmth. I’ll be so friendly…hmmmmm…maybe that was a part of the problem anyway. If were friendlier….

“VISITOR” OR “GUEST”?


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Neal Pollard

I have never attended a congregation who gets more “drop ins” than here. Last night’s midweek service, at which we had 223, included three non-Christians who were here either by invitation or on their own initiative. Sundays always means even more individuals and families who have come in from the community. What a golden opportunity this gives us as a church!

Last month, while attending “Affirming the Faith” in Oklahoma City, I heard Mark Taylor, preacher for the Memorial Road congregation, talking about what they have done to be more effective with “outsiders” who attend their services. This would include all who are not members of that congregation–Christian from in or out of the area and especially non-Christians “seeking” a church home. His thesis question was, “How do we view these individuals? Are they ‘visitors’ or ‘guests’?” He then demonstrated the difference.

He says a guest is someone for whom we have prepared. We clean our house, cook a delicious meal, and light a candle for guests. We plan for them. We want them there and we invite them back again. A visitor may drop by unannounced or unexpectedly. We may feel inconvenienced by a visitor. Your treatment of them may reflect that annoyance or apathy.

We never want to have another “visitor” again! That means we must treat all those who come in among us as guests! Such is proven by the steps we take toward them. It may not be easy to reach a “guest” sitting across the auditorium, but what about in our “section”? Is there an unfamiliar face? Greet them! Help them find a classroom. Take them on a tour. Invite them to lunch. Get the attendance card they filled out and drive to their home and tell them you were glad they were there. Every “guest” has a never-dying soul. Each of us is being handed an opportunity with eternal implications!

Will you pledge, with me, to seek out and honor every “guest”? Sunday is our next opportunity. Let us make the most of it (Col. 4:5)!