This is one of those rare and beautiful Sundays when we welcome a group of new church members within our First Congregational community. What a blessing their arrival is among us. You have heard me lift up hospitality as something more momentous that merely “being nice.” It is helping the stranger or guest feel at home. Churches taking this seriously do indeed grow.
You have also heard me say on Sunday mornings, “Be sure to greet that person unknown to you before falling in among and greeting familiar friends.” In ways like this, we seek to live out the gift of hospitality as a spiritual discipline. By the way, once you greet a guest, please be sure to introduce him or her to another member, seizing upon some detail they’ve shared with you as you make that introduction. If introductions like that happen a couple times whenever guests come our way, they will sense what a warm, welcoming church we are. If not, they will wonder.
It’s like this: all churches imagine themselves to be friendly. After all, existing members already have a warm, familiar circle of friends. That’s why we come back. But visit another church some Sunday as you are on vacation. Notice how daunting it is to visit a new church for the first time. Those are the eyes that I invite you to see through here on Sunday mornings. The more we live in their skin, the better we will receive them with welcome and grace, without going overboard.
For your information, you already know that we have visible and formal greeters in the narthex every Sunday. That you willingly sign up to welcome and own this church as your spiritual home makes a big difference. But did you know we have another informal, invisible cadre of greeters? These special greeters look for guests every Sunday so that no one will “fall through the cracks.” They have been serving since last summer. If you would like to join these special greeters who operate by stealth—greeting, introducing and giving impromptu tours—be sure to let me know.
Another request is please wear name tags for our new members’ sake this Sunday as they join. Some feel it as inconvenient or intrusive. But the more we are able to see worship through the eyes of newcomers, rather than operating out of our own personal comfort and convenience, the more we will grow. It is that simple. This is the kind of thing I have meant when I declare in a sermon: “The most important person here worshipping among us is the one who has not yet arrived.” Of course, that is not to slight our beloved, tried and true friends. It is to recognize we human beings are a little self-involved in how we fall in with the familiar and miss the new.