(NOTE: From time to time, I will provide a column featuring resources for local churches and clergy. I welcome feedback about future "resource topics" in the "comments" field below!)
Open the doors. Turn on the lights. Ensure the pulpit has a glass of water for the preacher.
For many churches, these three things are the first tasks of a routine Sunday morning. Sometimes, churches have a rotation of volunteers. Other churches have folks who have been doing this work quietly, without a credit in the bulletin, for years, if not decades.
Such routines are essential for congregations. You might even call them the “habits” churches need to be vital. And to this list, may we add another essential task: “Welcoming all”?
As a minister, I’ve seen a lot of “interesting” choices made by congregants who turned off a visitor long before the prelude finishes. Oftentimes, churches will keep their grounds well-appointed and buildings sparkling, yet the work of intentionally welcoming people has gone to seed long ago. Churches can claim an open door policy yet undermine that message readily when the non-verbal signals given off by congregants tell a person readily if they are welcome or not.
Further, welcoming all goes far beyond Sunday morning. Knowing how to communicate an effective “word of welcome” with a bulletin and a smile is just scratching the surface.
Ponder these questions:
** How does your church communicate “welcome” in your community involvement?
** How do your missional partnerships foster inclusion?
** Does the person in the back pews have just as much investment in welcoming “the widow, the orphan and the sojourner” as much as the minister, staff and lay leadership?
** Is it evident to the newcomer that “welcome” is not a temporary perk of being “new”? (In other words, can the sense of community and mutual support be easily discerned in how you interact with one another, even those you’ve been around for years, and despite that, you still like each other!)
To help cultivate the conversations awaiting your church, here are some resources to help:
Practicing Our Faith is a now completed Lilly Foundation study led by Dorothy Bass explores various faith practices through a series of books and creative projects by churches and organizations. Regarding hospitality, a rich gathering of resources around “practicing hospitality” and its many ways can be found via: http://practicingourfaith.org/hospitality
A book from this study is “Making Room” by Christine Pohl: http://www.eerdmans.com/Products/4431/making-room.aspx (NOTE: The publisher has a study guide also available for this book.)
Similarly, when welcoming visitors, other concerns (theological and practical) arise:
How welcoming is your physical space to “outsiders looking in”? A good recent web article explores this via: http://www.faithandleadership.com/content/donna-claycomb-sokol-what-would-happen-if-your-church-was-reviewed-tripadvisor
The United Methodist Church has a very thoughtful video for its denominational emphasis on welcoming newcomers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=con0t6n4jgM
A recent book on questions of inclusion exploring persons who may be invisible or challenging for some congregants or congregations to include: https://www.churchpublishing.org/products/index.cfm?fuseaction=productDetail&productID=451
And finally, two tongue-in-cheek (yet on the mark) takes on the matters:
and a video that is very telling (i.e. what happens if Starbucks marketed itself like many churches):