Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to write on “Issues in the Church” that either aren’t talked about, ignored entirely, or that we want to contribute to the discussion on. Our goal with this series is to help our readers think through these issues from a biblical worldview with lots of practical gospel-application.
- Read the rest of the series here.
Just outside Columbus, Ohio, there is a distinctive structure outside the factory. It is the Longaberger Basket factory and outside there is a giant replica of one of their baskets. People from all over Ohio (and beyond) come to get a tour of the factory. During the tour, they take pictures of the giant basket and see the process of making the well-known baskets.
As my family and I were taking the tour, I happened upon a sign that read, “We are in the people business. Relationships are the fuel that keeps everything in business running smoothly. Without them, people, as well as organizations, are ineffective.” At first, the sign seemed out of place at a basket factory. After all, isn’t their business baskets, for people?
The sentiment is very true, not only for the basket business but for the Church. The Church is all about people. The Church is all about relationships. The Church is all about connecting the people through redemptive and encouraging relationships.
How can the Church, as God’s salt and light in this world, be purposeful and intentional in relationships? If we are in the people business, what are some things that we need to be able to do well for our churches to be effective? Most of us would begin with a discussion of having sound doctrine, gospel-centeredness, etc.
This article will take sound doctrine, gospel-centeredness, as a given and look to flesh out some principles for how we can be effective in the relational networks of people in the church. In particular, one area that often gets missed in churches is our welcome. Are we doing what we can to make people feel welcome in our churches? What can we do to improve our welcome? I would like to share seven things that we can do to improve our welcome. For this, we will use the word “welcome” as an acronym to talk about these seven simple actions we can do.
- W – Warm greeting: greet people with a smile that makes them feel that you are glad to see them. Now, hopefully, you are glad to see them, but even if not, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31), to love our brother that we can see (1 John 4:20), and even to love our enemies (Matthew 5:48). Everyone who walks through the door of the church is covered under this command: so do your best to give a warm greeting.
Greeting one another in the church shows up in almost all (if not all) of Paul’s letters. Paul begins and/or ends his letters with some form of a greeting, while at the same time instructing his readers to greet others. At the end of Romans, Paul writes to a whole laundry list of people to greet and then instructs his readers to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16).
Now, surely there are many places where such a greeting is still culturally relevant. In our Western world, we would do well to take the spirit of this verse and apply it in a culturally acceptable way (smile and handshake come to mind). It is important to note that Paul thought enough about the importance of a warm greeting that he would include it throughout his writings.
This is not a foreign concept, either, in the business world. Anyone who has ever walked into a Walmart can see a warm greeting in practice as they position an employee at the entrance to welcome you. At any Subway restaurant I have ever been to, when you open the door and come in, the person making the sandwiches will yell out (ostensibly at me) “Welcome to Subway.” Retail researchers will say that there is a great importance to that warm welcome and how that can launch a positive interaction if done right or send the person elsewhere if done wrong. So, we begin with a warm welcome.
- E – Eye contact: In some ways, this is the difference between a Walmart greeting and a Subway greeting. We should not be distracted when we welcome people. Instead, make a purposeful effort to look people in the eyes as you interact with them. This is a non-verbal way of communicating that the person in front of you and their story is important to you. It gives them the sense that they are worth taking the time to hear and that you care about them.
- L – Listen: take time and listen; listen to their name (very important); listen to their story. Eye contact is good, but if the ears are not engaged, the conversation will die a quick death. Listen closely to them. Listen for connecting points in their story. Ask good questions (especially those that require more than a yes or no answer). Good questions will often flow from good listening, so listen well to them. Use their name in the midst of the conversation as well. This shows them you are listening and it helps you to implant their name in your memory so you can talk to them after the service without your first question being, “I’m sorry, but what is your name again?”
- C – Christ: Every interaction with someone is an opportunity to share the love of Christ with another individual. Jesus took advantage of these opportunities, whether it was the little children the disciples tried to keep away, the little man (Zaccheus) who the crowd seemed to keep away, or the ten lepers that society had to keep away. Jesus stopped and shared His love and compassion with the people He met, even those people for whom His love consisted of a rebuke. Jesus took time with people. We should follow His example. It is also interesting to note that Christ is at the center of our faith in the same way that “C” is at the center of “Welcome.”
- O – Opportunities: share with them what is going on at church and how they can get involved. Look for others who have a common interest and connect them during their visit. Remember that for a new person coming in, they will feel very out of place so the more you can connect them to others in the church, the more likely they will feel a sense of belonging and be willing to come back again.
- M – Move closer to people in the seats, don’t always sit in the same place. Also don’t always feel like you need to leave a seat between you and someone else. Remember to be sensitive to people’s personal space, but balance that with a purposeful intention to sit close to and engage others in conversation. Especially take note of those who are sitting by themselves, either a family or an individual. They are the visitors, we are the hosts, so it is up to us to take the initiative and move towards them.
- E – Expect questions: people come into the church not knowing where everything is, so be prepared to help them find their way. A good approach is to ask them early in your conversation if they would like any help finding their way through the church. This is especially important for a family with children who will need to know where their children should be going. Be sure to tell them your name as well and assure them that they can ask you any questions during their visit
Seven good acts to a better welcome. This upcoming Sunday, pick out at least one to implement in your time at church and pray that God will use your small act of welcome for His glory!
Rick Hanna serves as Senior Pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Guilderland, NY. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Heather, and is a father to ssevenchildren. He is passionate about international student ministry and adoption and enjoys reading, music, and sports (though as a Philly fan & Purdue alum, it usually means supporting the losing team).