It has been said:
When people visit a church they are not so much looking for friendly people as they are looking for new friends. If all they wanted was friendliness they could go to almost any store in the mall and find it.
I have always sensed that there is much truth in this statement. But understanding this is one thing, knowing how to practically flesh it out is quite another. It is a question of assimilation: How do we connect new folks with others in our church, and to the church itself, to a degree that these newcomers feel they can make it their home?
There are at least four ingredients that should be integrated and implemented:
1. Awareness of the Stranger in our midst
Sometimes churches are so in-grown that the people do not even seem to be aware of newcomers. They warmly greet one another, and chat with long-time friends to catch up on the week and to get the follow-up details from previous conversations. And this may be a genuine expression of caring people. But when the focus is so zeroed-in on the old friends, the antenna sometimes fails to pick up the presence of the newcomer.
How should we resolve this? It’s simple. Mike it a priority to look for unfamiliar faces first.
2. Greeting Strangers
It should go without having to be said, but it does little to no good to be aware of newcomers if we do not act on that awareness. But it is something that does have to be said. As I have seen, many times church members may scan the room for “outsiders” yet make no effort to greet them – much less welcome and befriend them. So ingredient two is simple: Greet the Stranger. Make the effort. Go talk to them. In fact, it might be a good idea to implement the 2-Minute rule in many of our congregations.
What is the 2-Minute Rule? The 2-Minute Rule is simply this: after the service, or during a greeting time if one is offered during the service, church members are not to talk to their friends for the first two minutes, unless no guests are present. Find the visitors. And if they are in a crowd talking to other church members, find someone you do not ordinarily talk to and talk to them. Some may need to extend this to a 5-Minute Rule, especially in larger, newer, or growing churches.
3. Ask Questions to Connect
Simply saying “Hello” and/or “Welcome” is certainly better than ignoring the stranger, but it does not lead to developing relationships. It is not an adequate expression of the hospitality we, as Christians, are expected to practice. We need to go further. We need to begin to connect. It is only through personal connection that newcomers will begin to feel at home.
One question to avoid would be: “What are you doing here?” (Though, I suspect this probably is the question most frequently conveyed, whether spoken or not, in most in-grown churches.)
But what questions should we ask? Well, there are many that could be appropriate. Perhaps some suggested questions can be the topic of another post. In the mean time, just ask any of the women who were in a college sorority.
4. Connect People to Other People
There is a general rule of assimilation that people need to make a minimum of five personal connections in a church to feel at home. (This is especially true for women. And 80% of the time it is the wife who will make the final determination about what church a family will ultimately attend.) So while it is great to connect through questions, it is equally important to introduce newcomers to other people.
Introduce people to those you know best. Introduce them to people you know who have similar interests, or are in a similar life stage, or live in the same neighborhood as the the strangers. Introduce them to other newcomers. Just realize that the more introductions the more opportunities to make those connections necessary to make one feel at home.
These ingredients in no way exhaust the components of an assimilation plan, but they are a simple and significant starting point.