Question: What do you talk about when you visit a prospective new member?
Possible answers: Talk about your congregation. Carry a brochure describing programs and ministries. Anticipate questions about joining.
Best answer: Talk about the person you are visiting. In spiritual terms, show regard for the other person, not concern for your church’s welfare.
Asking about the prospect shows what you value: persons, as opposed to institution. It answers the deep questions that most newcomers are asking: Is there room for me here? Will they accept me as I am?
When you ask about the other person, avoid coming across as an interviewer vetting a job applicant. If you seem to be screening for certain characteristics, such as employment status or education, you can build a wall. Better to ask a leading question, such as, “Tell me about yourself,” and let the prospect take that wherever he or she wants.
Listen attentively, and build on what you hear. Don’t rush to “close the deal.” The message you want to leave behind is: We care about you.
Joining a church can take many visits, many encounters, often many months and years. There’s nothing to be gained by speed. The initial encounter can set the tone: I am not anxious about your joining, I just want to get to know you, I hope we can become friends.
As time goes on, the prospective new member will look around and be curious about the institution, its programs and ministries, and its demographics. Let them do that work at their own speed. Your work up front is to open a door and put out a sincere welcome mat. Nothing is more welcoming that being taken seriously as a person.
Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant, and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the publisher of On a Journey, and founder of the Church Wellness Project.