We’ve all heard the old adage about the revolving church door. People come in and, before we know what happened, they leave, never to return. But what if this didn’t have to be the case? How do we treat those visiting or relatively new to our churches in ways that make them know we are glad they came?
Although there are lots of ways to do this, I want to briefly look at one routine event: mealtimes. Meals are great ways to get to know people and extend hospitality.
Invite Newcomers to a Meal One-on-One
I know of a church of 300 that has a newcomers lunch every Sunday. Although this is a lot of work for maybe one or two families, it says to the congregation, “We value newcomers.” But what if your church is 100 people or less? And what if you have only seen one visiting family or individual every two weeks?
One good approach is to designate a leader in the church who will always invite newcomers out for a lunch (or dinner) with his or her family on the first or second Sunday that the newcomer visits. Even if the newcomer declines, it gives the leader the opportunity to lay the groundwork for inviting the newcomer later to a quarterly lunch.
Quarterly Lunches: Get Prepared
Beyond these one-on-one individual or family lunches, your church might do well to host quarterly newcomer lunches. Here, it is important to remember two things. First, invite a few people from your church who have the potential for greater involvement in the church and building friendships with the newcomers. Don’t just invite the overworked elder who doesn’t have space for any more commitments.
Remember, you are helping to build relationships. It doesn’t work to invite people who are too busy to build new friendships.
It is also good to look for those in your church who have a gift of hospitality. You want the newcomer to be invited into other peoples’ homes, and those with this gift would see this as a natural next step.
The second thing to consider in quarterly meetings is to personally call newcomers to make sure they know that you as the church leader are glad they are at the church. Although it takes time, a personal call from the leader of the church goes a long way.
When we plan a quarterly lunch, we should shoot for a 50/50 approach, balancing church members with newcomers. Your leaders who are invited should model a godly life and be capable of connecting with lots of people. Frankly, some who are leaders in our churches are skilled at things other than making conversation. Don’t invite them. Instead, invite the leaders who listen well, ask good conversational questions, and have a simple view of the gospel and the Christian life in general.
Quarterly Lunches: Plan the Event
Start with an icebreaker that doesn’t make newcomers feel embarrassed. I recall a pastor who asked each person to quote his or her favorite Bible verse as the icebreaker. Some newcomers could not name a single book of the Bible, let alone a memorized verse. Another person answered the Pledge of Allegiance. Avoid the awkward questions that put someone on the spot.
Next, enjoy some good food together. This is what Jesus did—he fellowshipped around food.
During this time, or afterward, field as many questions as possible. If you are not good on your feet, find a leader who speaks well in random situations to field the questions that newcomers might have. Train the person to avoid questions that are overtly controversial so that he or she can focus on simple answers to basic questions.
Next, make a direct invitation to the next step at church. Perhaps it is a Christianity 101 class or a small group. Give the newcomers the opportunity to think about the offer and get back to you later or just show up at the class or group. Don’t put them on the spot.
Close the meeting in prayer, but invite everyone to stay around if they wish. During the prayer, name each newcomer by name, including the children. It is always a good idea to write down names and general information about everyone not just for the prayer time, but also for yourself as you move forward in the relationship.
This is just one way to help those new to the church to feel welcome. As the church that models Jesus, who opened his arms to all, we too are called to intentionally welcome all those who have made an effort to visit our churches. Our end goal is that they will see the loving arms of Jesus through our efforts and turn to him in faith.