Jerry L. Johns, member, Bethlehem DeKalb
Jamie came to worship at our church, and I was able to invite her to the fellowship hall for refreshments after the service. What ensued was an extremely open and candid visit. She was looking for a church home and verbalized her expectations. I also had an opportunity to introduce her to my wife, our pastor, and another person. We had an engaging, meaningful conversation. When Jamie was preparing to leave, I invited her to worship with us again. I later wrote down her name with the hope and expectation of seeing her again, and I wanted to be sure to welcome her by name when she returned. I still know her name, but she has not returned to worship with us to date. Even so, our conversation and interactions were meaningful. If she returns one Sunday, I’ll be ready to continue the conversation. And I know her name.
In my evolving experience, I view visitors as an opportunity to welcome them, visit with them, learn about them, and to show a genuine interest in them. That includes visitors who are with other members of our congregation. Some visitors will be with us for only one Sunday, but I want that experience and interaction with me to be positive. Sometimes one Sunday can turn into multiple Sundays and perhaps even a desire to join our church. Lynnea visited one Sunday, and my wife and I invited her out to breakfast. We often offer that opportunity and respect the individual’s decision. Lynnea accepted our invitation, and, to make a long story short, over the months she became more involved and plans to join our fellowship. I like to think that we provide an opportunity for involvement, and treasure each new person who enters our doors for worship. But let me stress that it is not just one person who makes it happen. Every congregation should have a formal or informal cadre of members who intentionally connect with visitors, roll out the welcome mat, and help make that Sunday experience a meaningful one. It’s a people-to-people connection.
I can’t say what I have done over the years is the correct and most appropriate way to welcome those who choose to worship with us on a particular Sunday, but let me share some of my guiding principles to conclude these reflections.
One person can make a difference, but it takes more than one person to make visitors feel welcome. Do your best to introduce visitors to other people, especially those who are of a similar age or vocation.
Enjoy the experience of meeting new people. The relationship comes first. Don’t expect every visitor to become a member.
My way of welcoming is my way. I’m comfortable in what I do, and you should be too. Avoid thinking that there is only one way to welcome. But please think about what you can do the next time you spot a visitor. You can begin with, “I’m (your name), welcome to (your church). The visitor will likely tell you his or her name, and you can begin the conversation.