By Heber Ticas, Superintendent of South America
Growing up in the church and after 20 years of pastoral ministry, I have often witnessed how church attendees tend to gravitate to those with whom they have an established relationship. This is natural; however, the downside is that guests who visit a church for the first or second time can easily feel out of place. They can feel there might not be a place for them in the established community. On the flipside, in our attempts to be welcoming in our smaller congregations, members sometimes swarm a guest, creating an awkward feeling for them.
For this reason, I believe a healthy church always seeks to create a healthy environment where both attendees and guests feel welcomed. This is not something that occurs accidentally—there must be some intentionality behind it. In fact, it is a vital ministry of the church. The hope avenue of a healthy church begins with such a ministry. Although we have been calling this an assimilation ministry, we are now pivoting a little bit and calling it “Integration Ministry.” In some cultures the word assimilation may be misunderstood and have a negative effect.
In any case, I would like to reiterate the importance of such a ministry. I recall the time when I asked a good friend of mine to come to the church I pastor as a secret guest. Kind of like the concept of a secret shopper at a supermarket. My desire was to evaluate our ministry from an outsider’s perspective. I was surprised by some of his observations and findings. The first time that I did this, it was clear that our integration ministry needed improvement. One of our observations was that we needed a more holistic approach to the ministry. An integration ministry is not just about welcoming guests. Intentional greeters are a key part of this ministry, but such a ministry needs to include an intentional process of integrating guests into the life of the body. Throughout the years I have learned the following elements that have helped me developed a robust integration ministry.
- An integration ministry will create an inclusive and befriending environment where guests and members feel welcomed from the parking lot to their seat.
- An integration ministry creates movement. The idea is to move a first-time guest to a second-time guest, to a regular attender and eventually to a member of the local body.
- An intentional integration ministry will create an environment on Sunday morning where guests and regular attendees will engage worship and the word with much more ease.
- An integration ministry creates needed pathways for disciple-making relationships to spark.
The elements that I have enumerated are crucial for the health of a congregation. I want to also make it clear that I am not suggesting that we view our guests as a project of sorts, on the contrary, I believe that such ministry is part of our participation of what Jesus is already doing in people’s lives. I am filled with joy whenever I am either approached by a guest or receive a note by text or a call by someone who felt welcomed, loved and inspired by their experience in one of our worship services. In order to establish a holistic integration ministry, I also believe that a church needs to consider the following:
- Proper signage that has guests in mind
- A good physical ambiance in the church facilities
- Well-positioned greeters (from the parking lot to the chair)
- An effective information table
- Connection cards
- Proper follow-up
When we consider all these elements, one can easily appreciate the intentionality and work behind a holistic integration ministry. Connections and relationship building should be the underlying theme in this ministry. For these connections to birth a deeper relationship that in turn can become a disciple-making participatory relationship, our integration ministries should include the following:
- Retain information needed to connect back to guests (connection cards).
- Give something to guests so they can connect back to the ministry (gift bag).
- Have a what’s next strategy (Connecting points, such as small groups).
I have said a lot about integration, but these last three points are crucial for the overall goal of an integration ministry. If a deeper disciple-making relationship is to be birthed with those who visit our fellowship, we need to be intentional about it. In my opinion, these last three points provide a healthy strategy to achieve this goal.
I pray that the Spirit gives us the sensitivity to hear what he is saying and the clarity to see where he is leading us.
2 thoughts on “Welcoming Guests”
Muchas gracias, Heber.
I am convinced that the love of God moving amongst his beloved children will gently prod us to become more like Jesus, the “Great Integrator”. The Spirit will lead us. May we all be receptive to that knocking and joyfully walk into the good works that the Lord has prepared for us.
All good, practical points. I have to say, we don’t do it well (yet) locally. I am still trying to convince the door-watchers that they should leave the front door unlocked during the service – not just because it is our fire exit (and it’s probably against the law!) – but so people can, if they want, join us off the street. Just this week, someone in our congregation locked the door when the service was underway, and when challenged said it was because someone peculiar came in last week. Interestingly, that “peculiar” person was made welcome, and was told when the regular service was (when they asked), and they came back this week! They also didn’t go home empty-handed, as we had some left-over food from afternoon tea, which they were happy to receive.
I expect we will be having a few conversations with our protective door-watchers, with a view to encouraging them to be a bit more open to visitors, whether peculiar or not.
We also recently (in October) had a couple who came along as they saw our website, but on the day they first visited couldn’t find us as we had no signage. That is now being sorted. They have continued to come for several weeks, but as there is no integration plan, we are likely missing out on pathways from attender to member.
Once again, I can see the practicality of getting these things thought about, and catered for, intentionally rather than accidentally.