The way we welcome people into our NWCs says so much about who we are and who we believe that God is.
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Hebrews 13 v 2 (NIV)
Do we live like this? Our NWCs want to be marked by a love that notices the newcomer, that doesn’t have favourites, that cares for the stranger and helps those in need.
Our NWCs will easily fall into a pattern of welcome that might need to be challenged and rethought. Often we don’t even notice the way we do things, they just become automatic. That can be especially true with how we welcome new people to a NWC. My last role involved a lot of travel and I found visiting new churches in different countries and very different cultures opened my eyes to how it felt to experience their welcome. As we all try figure out how to improve our welcome, here are some tips based on those experiences in other places.
Ultimately, NWCs are families. If someone you were getting to know was interested in coming over to your home for dinner or just to hang out you would:
(1) be clear about practical details
(2) notice them when they arrive
(3) listen to them and ask them questions about themselves
(4) tell them your story, who you are and who your family is
(5) give them opportunityto meet up again
And these are often all that is needed to radically improve the ‘welcome’ to your NWC. You don’t need a special ‘welcome team’ badge to do this. It is about how we all love people well, like Jesus does.
Is it clear what time or place your NWC is meeting? Last year, I went to a wonderful, vibrant church (mainly for young adults) in Switzerland, that ended up being basically impossible to find. I managed to figure out from their website what time they were meeting (note here: have you checked that your online presence is up to date?). I arrived at the building fine, again the location was online. But that’s where it got really difficult. There were four different churches meeting in the same building all at the same time. In the entrance hall - there was loads of food but given there were so many churches I had no idea whether I was allowed to eat it if I wasn’t attending a particular one. What was weirder was that no one else ate any of the food until a specific time, that seemed entirely secret, until the food all just started to unexpectedly disappear. When the churches finally started I asked which church was in English (an easy question I thought), so I got ushered into a vibrant Pentecostal meeting. It didn’t seem like the one I’d seen on the website but I didn’t mind. That was until five minutes into the service, when I realised EVERYONE in there was Brazilian and the whole service was in Portuguese. I slipped out, back into the now food-less entrance hall, to see if I could manage to get into the service I planned on going to. I wandered into another church in a different room and this time everything seemed to be in French. Not only that but literally half of the room was on a ‘prayer ministry’ team. They all had specific roles. I sat down basically on my own. Hoping that maybe someone would say hello - or bonjour would have been fine.
Finally, after a long while (I’d now basically been ignored for about 45 minutes since I arrived), someone came and said ‘hi’[RW1] . Turned out I was in exactly the place and time and church that I had seen online. I had made it. I stayed in the service and it was awesome, there were translators and the prayer ministry was wonderful (even if most of them hadn’t got[RW2] much to do). But to be honest - I almost left half an hour before that. I’m so so glad I didn’t. But I so easily could have.
If we want to welcome people into our family, into our NWC, make sure it is abundantly clear where and when we are meeting.
(2) SPOT PEOPLE
When our NWCs are small then it is really easy to notice if someone is new. Sometimes it can even be a bit like when there are very few customers in a shoe shop and the whole staff team runs to the first person that comes in - inevitably scaring them off. Let’s try to avoid that. But when things get a little busier and bigger it can be easy to miss people. I once went to a church in the US that had a $5000 budget a year for welcoming new people (I know?!). They didn’t have loads of new people so it meant that when someone was new, they were gently welcomed by quite a few different people individually. The church managed to make it not that intimidating but they also didn’t just stay in their own little cliques (which, given most people had been at the church for decades, probably could have been easy to do). Much of this was not about the money they had, though that just showed how much they cared about welcome, it was about their stance towards new people. One of their core values was being a place where anybody could belong.
Unsurprisingly this was a church where once people arrived, they often wanted to stay. I found that I was there for about 3 hours in the end because, though I had no plan to do so, I went to their ‘sunday school’ afterwards where they met in little groups and chatted about different topics or prayed together. It really felt like being invited into a family that actually wanted new people to be there. You don’t need a budget for welcome - but how important is welcome to you? What value do you place on it? Welcome is part of the mission of the church - are we on the lookout for opportunities to express that?
It can be so easy to get excited once we have spotted people that we bombard them with facts about us or the church or too many questions (think of the bored shoe shop staff team!). So how do we make space for new people to be able to share who they are? Sometimes it can feel a bit awkward meeting someone new in church, you might have no idea what to say - desperate to make the NWC welcoming - but really unsure how to do so. Its worth checking yourself at this point - have you asked the new person about them? I went to a fantastic church in the US a couple of years ago that was full of young adults. They were so engaging in welcome. In the first five minutes of being there, they wanted to hold hands in prayer, they gave me their Pastor’s newly published book, some coupons and a chocolate bar. Quite extraordinary really. But the biggest challenge was to actually get into to chatting with them. They were all so earnest that we never actually got deeper in conversation. I know exactly what that is like. So keen to meet someone that you totally forget to let them breathe. When we see someone new, don’t pounce. Provide a space for conversation - perhaps during worship or prayer. Throughout our mission and ministry are chances to build relationship - be aware of them.
(4) YOUR STORY
Does you NWC communicate what your story is? Why you are there at all? And where it has all come from? 3 years ago I was in a church in Ghana with a giant poster (I mean 30ft) of David standing over a dead Goliath. David, I should note, was rippling with muscles. Though, it does seem to defeat the point that David was no match for Goliath physically. Anyway. What did this say about the church? What were these impressive visuals communicating about the community? Probably a lot of things, many of them they would have wanted. But perhaps some they also hadn’t spotted. In other churches I have seen lists of ‘values’ emblazoned in plaques on a wall. In our NWCs we may not want to go this far. But it is worth thinking about - both in conversation and with the visuals of your church, how are you welcoming people into your story? Is your NWC mystifying to outsiders, have you got into patterns of jargon? It can send a powerful message to newcomers that your church is not closed off, if you explain the words you use, especially if they are unusual. Crucially, many people in their 20s, 30s and 40s have no or little experience of church. When you speak, what are you assuming about prior knowledge of the Bible or of church? Ditch the jargon. Share Jesus in ways that people can understand.
(5) NEXT STEPS
Once someone has come along to your NWC or shown some interest in being a part of it. What do they do next? If God has met them through what your community is doing - how can they respond? When we hang out with people and there’s a spark or a shared interest, we then figure out what is next in the relationship; i.e. when can we next meet or where we might go next. But do we think about these steps in church? What is your follow-up invitation? I went to a church once that was really good at this in the US. They had sign up cards if you wanted to be emailed by one of the church, they invited you for coffee and they talked about what was on offer - even museum trips. They made you feel like, you were allowed to keep coming along - even if you weren’t sure whether it was the place for you. Giving someone options for next steps is not about forcing them to keep coming, but providing opportunities for further exploration.