3 Ways We Welcome Newcomers into Our ChurchBy Dan Hammer
April 17, 2020
For me as a pastor, church planter, and leader, knowing the why behind the what has always been of utmost importance because the why should always drive the what. Thus, before we dive into how we should welcome newcomers into our church, it’s important to discern the why. More than an assimilation issue or a new guest retention issue, how we welcome newcomers into our churches is a glory issue. How we welcome newcomers into our churches should be forefront on our hearts, not an afterthought on not just our minds.
Paul exhorts us to, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ as welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7, ESV). That’s why welcoming newcomers into our churches must be a priority and not just perfunctory. Christ welcomed us into His family, and now we have the same privilege to welcome newcomers into the very church family that Christ Himself established.
Man was created for relationship. At our core, we long to belong. As we welcome newcomers into our churches, we aren’t just welcoming them into a building but into a body. We aren’t just connecting them with a program but with people. We aren’t just leading them to a chair, but we are leading them to Christ. That’s why welcoming newcomers into our churches doesn’t just matter for Sunday, but it matters for eternity.
Our mission at Harvest Bible Chapel Annapolis is that “We exist to glorify God through the fulfillment of the Great Commission.” Because welcoming newcomers into our church is a glory issue, it is a mission critical issue for us. While we are far from perfect, how we welcome newcomers into our church is not only a priority for us, but an ongoing pursuit. I want to share with you three ways that we are pursuing to welcome newcomers into our church to help them experience the love of God in the family of God for the glory of God.
Build a welcome culture not just a welcome team.
Our church launched on September 13, 2015. In the months leading up to the launch, one thing we emphasized with our core group, and have continued to emphasize, is building a warm, loving, and welcoming culture. We knew we wouldn’t have a huge youth group to start, that we would be asking people to grow with me as a preacher and leader, that we wouldn’t even have our own facility, but that there was absolutely nothing keeping us from being the most loving church. It was our choice and our conviction to love every single person that we came in contact with the love of God for the glory of God. I encouraged our people that if people knew they were loved, they would probably stay—stay through the growing pains of my preaching and stay even amidst the lovely lime green pillars in the school cafeteria where we met. They’d stay because they knew they were truly loved.
We challenged our people with the reality that everyone is a member of our welcome team. Yes, every person in our church is on our welcome team every week. Sure, not everyone stands behind the welcome table or opens a door each week with a name tag on, but we continually emphasize and encourage all of our people to smile, extend a warm handshake, make good eye contact, learn an interesting fact and give a caring greeting with those they don’t recognize, while inviting them to their small group.
Ensure newcomers are loved not left out.
We define success by if a newcomer feels loved, whether they stick at Harvest or not. After all, doesn’t Jesus teach us that more than our Sunday attendance or giving numbers, as His disciples, we are to be known by how we love one another (John 13:34-35, ESV)? With that reality, we believe it’s important we measure what truly matters most and let God take care of the rest.
We pursue minimizing insider language during all aspects of our Sunday service while maximizing the inclusive reality that whether this is someone’s first Sunday at Harvest or they’ve been here for five years, they are family.
We pursue continually listening intentionally as we greet each newcomer and then connecting them through a literal handoff with someone who has a similar interest to help them feel more genuinely at home.
Develop authentically not superficially.
Secularly, it has been said that, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The same is true in our churches every weekend. Often newcomers have decided whether to come back or not long before the pastor opens his mouth to preach. The Great Commission is fulfilled one person and one story at a time. Every person matters to God and to us at Harvest. We aren’t a perfect church, but we are a loving church, and your church can be too.
Welcome is more about your heart than about any system. Newcomers can tell very quickly if you are sincere or superficial. Welcome others as you’d like to be welcomed. Welcome others as God has welcomed you: intentionally, purposefully, without judgment, and with unconditional love. Welcoming newcomers is a way to worship God. Let’s bring God glory as we make welcoming newcomers lovingly a priority.