In this article Mark Birri suggests a number of ways that we can create a welcoming environment in church on Sunday morning. The article originally appeared on the Holy Trinity, Lyonsdown website. Located in New Barnet, Holy Trinity Lyonsdown is a growing conservative evangelical Church of England church committed to sharing and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ through the prayerful preaching and teaching of the Bible. For those wishing to learn more about Holy Trinity, Lyonsdown, the church website is at www.holytrinitylyonsdown.org.uk.
Why welcoming is important
Every week at Holy Trinity’s Sunday Morning service, there are newcomers and visitors. I can’t think of any other meeting where non-Christians turn up uninvited! Maybe they have come because they are new to the area, maybe they’ve seen the website, or maybe they genuinely want to find out how God can be more part of their life. This makes it even more crucial that we are good at welcoming newcomers so that they will feel at home amongst us and want to come back. Ultimately the reason why we are welcoming to newcomers is because the Lord Jesus invites all people into his kingdom.
Principle: looking out for others
"Consider others better than yourselves" says Paul in Philippians. We should come to church thinking ‘how can I serve people today?’ rather than ‘what can I get out of the church service today?’ This other-person centred attitude will mean that we are keen to welcome newcomers on Sunday mornings.
Can you remember the last time you entered a strange building for the first time where everyone you saw was a stranger? Can you remember how difficult it was for you to know what to expect, where to sit, who to talk to and what was expected of you? Can you remember how good it felt for someone to come up to you smiling and welcoming and show you to your seat? It is no different for a new person who has never been to Holy Trinity before.
Here are some practical things that you can do which I hope you find useful and might spark off other ideas in your head.
Arrive early to church
In order to welcome people into the building we need to get there before they do!
Hang around the entrance
Why not smile and welcome people as they come in? If you don’t recognise them why not enter into polite conversation with them and invite them to sit with you? If it’s good weather why not stand outside and greet people as they come in? Try not to talk to members of the congregation in these areas.
Good questions to ask
‘How many times have you been to Holy Trinity?’ is a better question than ‘are you new?’ because they may actually have been coming for several weeks and the fact that you haven’t met them before can be embarrassing! If they say they’ve been coming for a while but you haven’t met before say ‘oh I’m so sorry I haven’t introduced myself before… I’m Mark, what’s your name?’ Keep questions light and informal. Don’t interrogate but show a genuine interest in them. Why not ask ‘can I explain a little about what goes on at Holy Trinity?’ I’m sure they’d be grateful for the extra information.
When choosing somewhere to sit, look for newcomers on their own
Try not to always sit with the people you know best at Church. Sure it’s encouraging to do it once in a while but think how you would feel if you were new at Holy Trinity and you sat on a bench all on your own the whole time! Why not introduce yourself as soon as you sit down – it’s not being intrusive, its just polite! I always write a newcomers name on my service sheet because I know how embarrassing it is to ask them again next week!
Invite people to leave contact details
Why not ask for an email address or phone number so that you can invite them to next week’s service, or to an appropriate event mid week such as Trinity Tots or Wed@One.Ten? A casual phone call mid-week makes the newcomer feel wanted, and much more likely that they’ll come back the following week.
Spontaneous invitations to Sunday lunch
If you’re a family that always has Sunday lunch after church, why not prepare enough food for two more people? Then when you get to church you’re looking to find two newcomers who you could invite to join you. This is the best welcome you could do for people. I know people who were invited to lunch the first time they ever went to a church and it made a lasting impression! If this is too much to do every week, why not put aside one week in four to be your ‘welcome week’ where you make a special effort to invite new people to come to lunch at your home?
An all-member ministry
Welcoming people is a key ministry of the church that almost everybody can be a part of, whoever you are. It isn’t just the sidesman’s job each week; this is something we are all responsible for. If you’re a shy person just think you can’t possibly feel more uncomfortable than the newcomer! One principle I’ve found to be true is this: the more you do it, the better you get at it. And we can all be praying that our Father would give us people to welcome at Church each week.