Editor’s note: This month we invited our bloggers to share their experiences of welcome and hospitality in the church. Here are their stories.
David Loleng was the former associate for evangelism for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (he recently became the director of church financial literacy at the Presbyterian Foundation). Loleng used to travel across the country talking about evangelism, church growth and hospitality. I was fortunate enough to see him at one of these speaking events. At one of our presbytery meetings a few months ago he said:
“It takes seven relationships before a visitor will become a member.”
On average, Loleng explained, it takes seven interpersonal relationships to be made before a visitor in your congregation would ever become a member of your congregation. That means a person would need to have some sort of a positive connection built with seven different people from within the church community before he or she would feel comfortable becoming a part of that community.
How good are we at building relationships within our churches? What efforts do we make to form these connections with people on the periphery?
Loleng did not go as far as to define categories for the seven relationships that need to be formed, but for the sake of self-evaluation, I will. Below I propose seven categories of folks within the church that should be making a conscious effort to build relationships with visitors. I offer these as talking points for further (and hopefully fruitful) conversations.
I know that a relationship between a pastor and a visitor seems forced on a Sunday morning, and I can quote the statistic that members who invite people to worship are 10 times more likely to succeed than pastors who invite people to worship – but the pastor does need to make an effort here. How are the pastors reaching out to the visitors? How do the pastors follow up with the visitors?
As the ones in charge of the governance, functioning and spiritual leadership of that congregation, the elders need to make a conscious effort to reach out to visitors. They get to step back and look at the big picture of how we do all that we do, but they also need to be involved in the little touches that can mean so much – like offering more handshakes and seeking out new faces on a Sunday morning.
Do your greeters simply hand out the bulletin and say “hello”? Or do they introduce themselves, try to remember names and connect visitors with others sitting around them in the pews? A good usher or greeter team can do amazing things to create a culture of hospitality.
Not only do the staff members present on a Sunday morning need to take responsibility for following up with visitors, but the office staff (if those not present on Sunday mornings) can make follow-up phone calls, mail information about the church and make themselves available to answer any questions a visitor might have.
Do the Sunday school teachers or small group leaders make an effort to recruit new members? People not only will make better connections in these types of groups, but will make deeper connections to others in these settings. You can build seven positive connections within this setting very quickly.
If your church does not have deacons, does someone in your caring ministry team look for ways to not only care for its members but also its visitors? People on the periphery of the flock might really need some neighborly love and that extra sense of inclusion. How do you care for those who perhaps wander into your fold?
This is by far the most generic category, but probably the most important. Do your members see hospitality as a priority? Do you have a “welcoming” reputation in your community? Do members actively seek out visitors and introduce themselves?
What category are you in? What category would you add? How can we better build these seven relationships with those who might want to join our community?
BRIAN CHRISTOPHER COULTER is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Aiken, South Carolina. He is a husband, father, pastor, author, blogger and pingpong champion who is pretty good at sidewalk chalk.