What would it mean if we valued first NOT our own comfort, ease and standing at First Congregational? But if we focused more on the visitor or guest who won-ders if she could ever belong here, and asks herself that at our periphery? That would make us more of a church—the body of Christ–than a hermetically-sealed club. That would speak loudly about how we elevate hospitality as a spiritual gift.
What would it look like if we put our interests aside long enough to consider the well-being of those we haven’t met, putting strangers ahead of familiar network? We would see the gospel in action to transform and grow our community. Every church thinks of itself as friendly and welcoming and, yes, we do well on Sunday morning in the pews. But structuring such a culture of hospitality is the acid test.
We lift up the goal of becoming such a warm, active culture of hospitality that no one will feel lost or missed, and that no one feels outside looking in by visiting us. Here are three simple, friendly, easy, and community-building things you can do:
Invite and bring friends, neighbors, and family to morning worship. My first two years, we had two Bring-A-Friend Sundays. I didn’t continue them because they seemed to puzzle us. No few said, “As Congregationalists, we don’t do that. Other churches do that.” If we really believe that, and it we don’t believe in our church any more than that, it will consign our church to the dust heap of history. The truth is, we UCCers invite others to church differently than churches famous for “evangelism”, which, by the way, is a good word. DT Niles called evangelism, “One hungry person telling another hungry person where to find bread.” Spiritual bread. So we don’t harangue or brow-beat people, but simply invite them as warmly and graciously as we’d invite them to a movie or dinner. We can all do it.
Participate in or form new face-to-face groups. What is a face-to-face group? Our Chancel Choir. Our Care Circle. Our Bible Study. Our group that reads novels. As I write these words, Cecile is headed off to our Night Owls. That’s another small group. Recently, our Men’s Group had an evening dinner and 12 men turned out, staying an extra hour. These groups form the sinews of church community. They are essential to help new member joiners to become belongers and feel at home. Also, it is even easier to invite a friend to a small group than to church, if inviting them to Sunday morning worship intimidates you. Only in such small groups can we truly know others and be known by them. Morning worship is wonderful, but all of the pews are bolted to the floor and facing in one direction.
Wear your name-tag. We’ve been falling off in this, but it is more essential than ever. Names make a vast difference approaching others and being approached. You might feel like everyone knows your name. But we don’t, any more than you know everyone’s name. The point is to see our common life not through the eyes of the old guard. But to see what we do through the eyes of new arrivals. If you attend church and wear your nametag, you’ll be surprised the difference it makes. I guarantee your social network will swell and new connections will be made. One tip: as you wear your name-tag, put it on the right so it is visible as you shake hands. We’ll make a new one if you don’t have one.