Welcome.... we're glad you're here

Every Sunday, or at least on the Sundays I remember, I try to welcome both the regulars and the newcomers.  Often, I say something on behalf of the congregation like: "welcome, we're glad you're here."  I am glad that every person sitting in the chairs got up that morning and walked through the church doors to join the community for worship.  I am thrilled that week after week faces become more familiar and there is a good energy bouncing around our space.  But I also know, that for the most part, we all know each other.  Or at least all of you mostly know each other.  I am stilling learning names and connections, which is why I reminded folk to wear their name tags this morning.

Actually, I used myself as a scapegoat.... you see, I still have the luxury of being "new" to the congregation, to say that I am learning and that there's only one of me while there is a whole bunch of you.  But the process is slow, and sometimes overwhelming.  And if being new is sometimes overwhelming for me, who has been in the church all my life, and who has been in your midst before, can you imagine what it would be like for someone who had just walked through Sunset's doors?

Being new at anything is nerve wracking... but trying to be a new person in a community of faith that is connected and established?  That's even harder.  You see, those of you who sit in the chairs reguarly, or sometimes, or once and a while, know the flow of worship, and how things go.  You know where to sit, who you are going to talk to, when to stand up and sit down, what's unison and what isn't, where the bathrooms are and where coffee happens after the service.  These are just some of the things we just take for granted...  but if you have never sat in our chairs before, this is all new and not intuitive.

So, we need to do some thinking about what we, as an established group of people, can and should be doing in order to welcome new folk into our midst.  Welcoming new people into the community because we ARE glad to have them there, and not because they are a potiential source of income or committee member.  These new folk are looking for a safe place, a safe place where they can be, a safe place to pray, question, sing and worship.  We have no idea what drew them to us or why they came through the doors on a particuar day.  All we know is that we need to welcome them into Sunset, to offer to sit with them or have coffee with them and to answer any questions they have.  

The reality is there is very good chance that new faces will be arriving in our congregation to "check us out", to see if Sunset is a good fit for them as they figure out what they need after their church closes.  How will we greet these folk?  Will we let them wander in on their own, to find a place to sit only to have the chairs around them moved?  How will we as regulars let these newcomers know that they are welcome and that we are glad that they are here?

I want you to take a moment to think about your first weeks at this church or whatever church you have started over in.  How were you welcomed?  Were you welcomed?  What made you stay?

When David and I first came, when we didn't have kids, we came because we knew one of the ministers.  We stayed because one or two people welcomed us and showed us the ropes and introduced us to others.  Week after week, folk interacted with us, and talked with us making us feel a part of things.

So first impressions count.  

In the next little while, we will need to do some strategic thinking on how we create a welcoming space.  In the mean time, I want to challenge you.  1.  find and wear your name tag -- I know full well that it makes you vulnerable because then people can know who you are and use your name in conversation, but it's also helpful for those folk who come back.  2.  If you see someone new, simply greet them and introduce yourself welcoming them to our church.  Let them know that if they have questions you are a good person to ask.  Introduce the person to one or two other people, include them in your conversation at coffee.  You may need to break out from the routine of what you do at church, but that's okay.  You can get back to routine...you cannot re-do a first impression.

Sunset is a welcoming and safe space for all kinds of folk -- and this should be seen in word and action.  Live into this description.  Take a risk and welcome the newcomer, as they took a risk to join us.

Blessings and peace, friends.