We have spent a good deal of time in the first few months of 2017 focusing on becoming a more inviting and welcoming congregation. Now, we turn our attention to retaining those who walk through our doors, to help them connect with Jesus and with our community of faith.
Robert Schnase tells the story of a woman who was going through a rough time in her personal and professional life; and in her search for connections, hope, and direction, she began to visit a few churches. After her first two worship experiences to which she came alone, sat alone, and left alone without anyone speaking to her or greeting her, her prayer for her next visit to another church was simply, “I only pray that someone speaks to me today.”
What an indictment! Could that happen to a guest in our congregation? We would like to think that it would not happen here. To be sure, we make a great effort to see that people are greeted warmly. We try to welcome newcomers in worship, and have a regularly scheduled fellowship time after worship. We try to follow-up with our guests post-worship. Still, how easy it is for a guest who has mustered up the courage to come to worship and even to share a cup of coffee, to find themselves sitting alone because no one noticed them or reached out to them.
I have had this experience many times during the summer months when Terri and I have visited churches while on vacation and found that frequently no one greets us or welcomes us. No one speaks or helps us find our way. Did you know that poor connecting with guests is the number one reason those guests don’t come back? It is all about connecting people to Jesus and this community of faith. Oh, we think we are a friendly church, but that can often mean we are friendly with each other and not necessarily with the guest that walks through the front door.
As part of our focus on connecting in the next couple of months, I will suggest to our Deacons a little experiment. Just as retail stores employ agencies to provide “secret shoppers” to test the responsiveness of their employees, so we will invite a couple of people from another congregation to show up for worship and provide a “secret visitor” analysis. You won’t know when! But we will try to gauge how we are doing at genuinely and authentically welcoming people; at helping them find their way, and to feel at home here.
We all have a need to feel connected, so that will be our focus in the next few months. I will offer a class on the topic in June for a joint session of our adult classes. Let’s do all that we can to help those who come through our doors connect with a community of faith that offers strength, comfort, challenge, hope, and yes, a place to belong, grow, and serve.
In Christ, Pastor Joel
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Rev. Dr. Doris Barron-Shell