If you’ve ever been the new person in the room, it can be terrifying. Everyone else seems to know everyone else, and you’re left unsure where you fit in. If you’ve ever visited a new church body, you know it is often no different. That’s a problem; it should be different.
As representatives of Christ, a body of believers should be the warmest, most welcoming group on the face of the Earth. Unfortunately, we’ve largely failed at this. I know more people, Christians and non-Christians alike, with a traumatic church story than without one. But it doesn’t take trauma to drive a new person away from the church. “No one talked to me,” or “I didn’t feel welcome” are the most common complaints I hear.
So as a church member, how can you make visitors feel welcome? From my experience, here are a few tips.
Avoid “Club Mentality”
As always, start by checking your heart. How do you view the church? Do you go to church gatherings to worship and serve the Lord, or is it more of a social experience? Do you desire to throw open the doors to a lost and dying world? Or, do you have a good thing going that you don’t want to mess up?
I’ve met church members whose primary desire appears to be keeping everything to their liking, including who comes through the doors. I call this “club mentality,” and it is what happens when church becomes about us. But it was never meant to be.
The early church was a beautiful, messy mix of Jew and Greek, of rich and poor. It was a glorious picture of Heaven, but it was uncomfortable. Yet in the midst of this discomfort, thousands came to know Christ. The church was never meant to be a cushy social club. May we never dishonor Jesus’s sacrifice for it by turning it into one.
Step out of your Comfort Zone
If you’ve been a part of your church for awhile, chances are you have a group of friends. Maybe you sit next to the same people every week, talk to the same people before the service starts, and hang out with the same people afterward. It’s natural and even good to build those relationships. But if you exclusively fellowship with those people, you run the risk of becoming “clique-y.” New people may struggle to see a place where they can fit in.
For their sake, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. Scan the congregation for someone you’ve never seen or talked to before. Go sit with them, or invite them to lunch afterward. Encourage your friends to come with you. You have no idea how much that simple act of kindness could mean to someone.
Can’t find any new people? Do something about that.
Invite New People
To state the obvious, new people can’t feel welcome in your church if they’re never invited. Is one of your Christian friends searching for a church home? Your body of believers may be a perfect fit. Have you been witnessing to a non-Christian friend? Bring them to hear the gospel proclaimed and to experience the hospitality of the saints.
If you look around your congregation and only see familiar faces, that points to a problem. A church needs new members to grow. How can there be new members without visitors? In this instance, sometimes you must be the change you want to see.
The Little Things Matter
We’re human, and the little things matter to us. Something seemingly small can make or break your whole day.
Church can be the same way for a new guest. In her book, Gay Girl, Good God, Jackie Hill Perry recounted her first experience back in church after becoming a Christian. After years of running from God and committing taboo sins, darkening the doors of a sanctuary proved terrifying. What, then, comforted her enough to empower her to return to this body of believers?
A church member smiled and remembered her name.
Just hearing this woman say “Jackie,” she said, proved to her that the congregation saw her as more than her sins, her sexuality, her clothes or her past. She was a person to be loved.
When we encounter a new face in the church, we never know what those eyes have seen or those ears have heard. We don’t know what their heart has suffered. Small acts of respect and kindness can go farther than we imagine.
Get Outside the Church Walls
It’s hard to form relationships with people you only see once a week. Speaking to new people on Sundays is a great first step – but what about the other six days?
Nowhere does the Bible say that Christian fellowship must take place within the walls of the church’s designated space. In fact, it commands believers to share their lives with one another. Don’t just invite new people to church. Don’t just invite guests to sit with you. Spend time with these people beyond Sunday morning. Then they will know that they are not just welcome in the church’s walls, but loved by the church itself.
Being the new person in church can be hard. Chances are, you’ve been there. As the hands and feet of Jesus, we are commanded to reach out to new people. Often, that’s as simple as a handshake, a remembered name, or an invitation to lunch. This week, pray about to whom you can extend these things. You’ll be amazed at what God will do.
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