A friend who sometimes calls herself a ‘serial parishioner’ tells the story of visiting churches in her midwestern community some years ago.
I went to the United Church of Christ for several months. When I expressed interest in joining, the pastor replied: We’re so glad you’re here … there is so much work to do.
I went to the Methodist Church for several months after that. When I expressed interest in joining, the welcome committee said, We’re so glad you’re here … here is the new-member eight-session class you must take, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the same night of the week that you have an intractable family commitment.
I tried the Catholic church next. When I expressed interest in joining, the church leaders said, ok, but you need to stop taking communion until you do.
I went to the Presbyterian church after that. People smiled at me the first time, and the second time. The third time they said, We’re so glad you’re here … won’t you join us in the thing we have been doing for forty years (fill in the blank: service program, protest vigil, Sunday School class) and take it over so we can stop doing it?
I went to the Episcopal Church too. People did not smile at me. But they showed me the brochure for the new building fund right away.
We’re so glad you’re here … there is so much work for you to do.
We’re so glad you’re here … to contribute to the new church building fund.
We’re so glad you’re here … just in time for the capital campaign.
We’re so glad you’re here … to step into our jobs and give us a break.
The turn of a new year, the turn-over of a church board as it welcomes new leaders, the freshly turned page of a new pastorate – these are all excellent times to do a “church audit” of how your congregation welcomes and greets new people. How clear is your signage and wayfinding to the place you gather for worship? Is your worship language – printed and oral – understandable to those who are new to faith and/or new to church? And, perhaps most crucially, what are you really communicating as you seek to welcome new people into your faith community?
In your congregation, what comes after “we’re so glad you’re here … ?”
In Acts 2, we get the amazing events of the Day of Pentecost. But what comes after, in response to the gift of God’s Spirit, is just as remarkable.
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
We’re so glad you’re here … let’s break bread together and pray for one another.
We’re so glad you’re here … let’s experience awe together.
We’re so glad you’re here … it’s time to Praise God together.
Again: In your congregation, what comes after “we’re so glad you’re here … ?”
If it is not something about faith formation, service, prayer, promise, gift, praise and awe – what is it?
And what are you going to do about that?