Many people base their choice of a church on relationships—family, people they know and trust who invite them, church members who extend genuine hospitality as they offer true concern for visitors and their needs and interests.
When initiating a relationship, the goal should not be to get them in church as fast as you can. Rather—when the time is right—invite people to become part of a ministry of the church as a way to develop and strengthen affirming and life-enhancing relationships.
1. Evangelism training
Most people first come to a church because of a relationship they have with someone who already attends. Emphasize that knowing and having a relationship with the person must come before an invitation to worship, to being part of a mission or service project or to participating in another ministry. Training could also include how—and when—to share one’s faith.
A. Play off people’s passion and strengths
Connect with people based on what you know or are willing to learn about them, their interests and needs. When reaching out to people who are not part of a church, know them or their situations well enough to share how being a part of a faith community might enhance their lives. For example:
- Kim likes to do good deeds and be active. Consider inviting her to a church, community or global mission project where she will meet other service-minded people. An invitation to worship might follow later.
- Jerome sings in a rock ‘n roll band, has a spiritual side and generally prefers to experience life to the fullest. Invite him to a high-energy service with powerful contemporary music, visuals and action-oriented messages. If your church does not offer this type of worship, tell Jerome about one that does. Consider visiting a church with him until he meets friends and feels comfortable attending alone.
- Danny is not about to get out of bed on Sunday and head to church, but he will head to the local ball field at the drop of a hat. Invite him to join a sports team sponsored by the church. Welcome his friends, too. Talk about spiritual matters informally. Be a positive, supporting influence in his life.
B. Build on a biblical foundation.
Church leaders can share and encourage members to become active in welcoming on a more personal, Bible-based level. Romans 12 is a treasure trove as Paul gives us the steps for building relationships:
- Be genuine. "Let love be without hypocrisy." Don't just pretend to love others.
- Be contagious with enthusiasm. We are to be "fervent in spirit."
- Be positive, patient and prayerful. This connects us with others. We may never see our friends believe as we do, but we can still be a positive influence in their lives.
- Open your heart and home to others. Hospitable people make the world a smaller place. Read "Rethink your couch: a new spin on missions and hospitality” for some great ideas on how to make this work in your life.
- Never speak evil or negatively of others. "Bless and curse not."
- Empathize. This will help you avoid seeming to be indifferent.
- Let God handle justice. When we seek revenge, we put ourselves in God’s place, as if we could judge their hearts.
2. Personalized Invitations
Christmas, Easter, baptism services and other special occasions are ideal times to invite personally people who are not Christians or not actively involved in a church. Printed personal invitations are excellent for encouraging participation.
3. Get out and visit.
Have your welcome teams (three or four people) visit other churches with different styles of worship. Let them experience firsthand what it’s like to be a guest and to feel like an outsider. They can bring back ideas of what to do and what not to do that can improve your own welcoming program.
4. Welcome at worship.
When visitors walk into your church doors, the welcoming effort is just beginning. You will gain other insight from your visiting church team, but some initial ideas include:
- Create a hospitality team. Invite visitors to a member’s home for Sunday dinner.
- Connect less mobile with more mobile. Pair a less mobile visitor with a physically active member who can assist in navigating the church building and perhaps assist the visitor during the rest of the week with grocery shopping or a trip to the doctor. Care for the caregiver also necessary.
- Distribute visitors' packets and videos. These are different from the general welcome kits. This information introduces newcomers to worship, missions and other ministries. Be sure to include a welcome message from the pastor.
- Print in your worship bulletin every Sunday a statement inviting newcomers to become members of your congregation and telling them how to do so.
5. Become the neighborhood “welcome wagon.”
Consider ways to how to build new relationships within your community. For example, work with local utility companies to learn who has registered for new service in the community. Many recently moved families are looking for a church and just need an invitation.
And here are two additional ways to offer more general invitations to your church. Both could spark new relationships that might lead to personal invitations.
6. Stake your church.
Distribute yard signs to members that say, “This family invites you to (name) United Methodist Church.” Ask them to post a sign for a specific event, respecting local zoning ordinances, for a few weeks.
7. Create a welcome kit or basket.
Talk to local Christian schools. While they will not be able to share contact information, they may be willing to give families your welcome kit at registration. Share need-to-know information about your community as well as details about your church. Congregation members may be willing to donate items. When someone moves into a new home, a welcome basket that first day with toilet tissue, paper towels, soap and other basics would be a nice welcome.