February 2011: New kids on the block
Ours is a 25-year friendship but I still remember clearly the warm welcome he gave me on my first, scary, day at his church.
I was a young 20-something who had recently moved with her husband to a community household — more than an hour away from the church we’d grown up in.
We’d been active in youth fellowship in our teens and youth leaders for several years.
Along with moving house we were looking for a home. A Christian church not too far from our new suburb; a place we could find friendship and fit in.
We wanted to put down roots in a church family that valued community and community service; embodying gospel values.
We wanted to grow spiritually in a place that looked on human complexity with compassion and drew from God’s word — meat and marrow.
We wanted to worship with people who shared our love of the arts and would embrace our creative gifts in music, song, dance and words.
And we wanted to be with people, of all generations, who were serious … but fun!
Miraculously, we found that place.
Its heart shone out to us through that first warm smile offered on our first day.
This man’s genuine welcome — so relaxed, cheerful, humorous and interested — brought us back the next week.
And then the next.
Later, as we settled and met more people, we realised there was no yawning mismatch between those first words and gestures and the wider congregation’s words and deeds. Here was the body of Christ — a living, breathing, wonderful organism full of living, breathing, wonderful people — that wanted us to be an integral part of it and them.
This new family cared about us but also cared about the world; especially those who were destitute and broken.
It was down-to-earth and real.
Its generosity was overwhelming. Its hospitality divinely inspired.
“Newbies” come to our churches because they’re welcomed. They stay because of ethos and vision, growing friendships, opportunities for service and the chance to learn and talk wisely about God. They stay where there’s good communication about how their contribution can make a difference.
They stay where they’re loved.
It sounds like a no-brainer — but churches easily stuff up.
Ourfeature story this month shows how several churches got it right. New people came … and stayed.
What excellent news.
PS: The Uniting Church did well in the last National Church Life Survey in 2006 with a good overall record for being welcoming. Will we do well in the 2011 survey— or do we need to recommit ourselves to offering God’s welcome in heartfelt, Spirit led ways?