…Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works… (Matthew 5:16)
by Kathy Haueisen
Many a church leader is wringing his or her hands today about the steady decline in church membership. What is it that might actually attract and keep new members in our church?
We know if we want new members, we have to leave the building and meet them where they are.
But what of those who dare to open the doors of our church and come in for the first time? In my past work, I was paid to do that many times, and here are the tips I’ll offer.
- It’s intimating. Please say “hello.” I feel uncomfortable when I wander the gathering spaces clutching a cup of coffee like a life preserver. Your heartfelt “good morning” might make the difference between whether I stay, bolt or ever come back.
- Take a chance that I might be a life-long member you haven’t met yet and say something like, “If we’ve met before I’m afraid I don’t remember.” Offer your name and ask them to tell you something about themselves.
- Ask open-ended, but non-invasive questions to help start a conversation. “How long have you lived in this area?” “How did you find out about our church?” “Do you know anyone else who attends here?”
- If I continue to come to the church, help me get involved. Find one simple, low-commitment task I can do to give me a reason to attend a service or event. “Could you help us by bringing a loaf of bread? We never seem to have enough.” “I heard you singing and I can tell you have a beautiful voice. Would you be willing to help out the choir once when they sing next time?”
- If I bring children, take us–rather than point us–to the children’s classes. Introduce us. If my children have a great time, they’ll ask me to bring them back.
- Ask me what I’m interested in and try to introduce me to someone else with that interest.
- Don’t bombard me with requests too soon, and always give me a gracious out. Some people love to get involved with the church right away. Others don’t. Start slow and see how it goes.
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It is fair to expect the pastor(s) to know of or be informed about new visitors. It is not reasonable or even realistic to expect the staff to be the official greeter for all of them. When I attended a church three times and the only people who spoke to me were those paid to do it, I wouldn’t return a fourth time.
Welcoming newcomers is the best way to help them become the active co-partners in the mission of your church.
How do you welcome people to your church?
Kathy Haueisen is a retired pastor who lives in Texas with her husband and spends her days writing, gardening and wondering what her grandchildren are up to. She blogs regularly about people and programs making a positive contribution to society at www.howwisethen.com.
Members greet each other at Gracious Saviour Lutheran Church, Detroit, Mich. Photo by Jim Veneman