We have long-time students and new students in our church every single week. If we’re going to make them feel welcome, what should we do? Let me offer some very practical advice:
1. The next time you see someone you don’t know…go talk to them.
When my family was new to the north Alabama area, we visited several churches. In one, we saw that they were building a new youth department, had a great ministry going, and really enjoyed the service. But nobody really made any effort to talk to us. At another, the youth group met in the fellowship hall, had no other designated space, sang only hymns at worship, and felt really traditional. While we were visiting the second church, however, my brother and I sat on a pew in the sanctuary. The pastor’s kid came and sat down on the other side of the pew. His dad casually came up to him, whispered in his ear, and he scooted down the pew to where we were. The conversation was as follows:
Us: “Your dad just told you to sit by us, didn’t he?”
PK: Without even looking at us, but smiling: ”Yup.”
All three of us cracked up.
Guess which church we joined?
Don’t worry about it being awkward approaching the new student. They’ll appreciate the effort more than you know. Need some guidance on what to say? Try “Hi, I’m _______. What’s your name?” Works like a charm.
2. When you show up at church, find someone you haven’t talked with in a while and ask how they are doing.
You know when it’s been a long time since you’ve talked to someone and you really don’t know what to say because you’re afraid it’ll be awkward? That’s okay. Here’s another good line I’ve found helpful:
“Hey ______, we haven’t really talked in a long time. What’s going on?” If you’re daring, you could add “I saw on [social media] that you…”
Conversations that have an awkward start don’t have to end that way. Approach someone, let the awkwardness die away, and reconnect with someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time.
3. When you see someone sitting/standing by themselves, go over to them.
You know, I run into a few people who say they genuinely enjoy being by themselves and prefer to be left alone.
But do you know how I found that out?
When I saw them standing or sitting by themselves, I went over and talked to them.
Sometimes in new situations I love just going up to people and talking to them and introducing myself. But not all the time. Sometimes I need someone else to come and make the first move.
Don’t just assume that because someone is by themselves that they are having the time of their lives. Keep your eyes open for someone without anyone around them. They be inwardly wishing someone, ANYONE, would come up and talk to them. You could be the difference in their experience at church.
Or they may just genuinely want to hang by themselves. You’ll never KNOW unless you ask.
4. Remember why you come to church in the first place.
Did you come to study the Bible, worship God, and grow with a community of believers? All good reasons to come to church. Did you come to see friends? That’s okay. Did you come to sing songs? Again, okay. Did you come to play ping-pong? Well….
If you come to church for your own sake, you’re going to just come in order to have fun, survive the service and get out on time. If you come so that you can grow closer to God and closer to a community of believers, well that’s just a better reason to come. And it’ll really change how you interact with others around you.
The next time you get into the car to head to church, ask yourself “Why am I going to church today?” Do a little soul searching.
I’ve mentioned the word community a lot just now. When you compare community to cliques, community wins every time. I’ll talk about why in my next post.