by Lisa Birle
I am always blown away by the constant stream of new people that God brings to our community. I never want to take for granted that each week someone new is walking into our ministry for the very first time. It’s good to think through how they may be feeling and what thoughts are rolling through their mind as they enter the unfamiliar environment. Do they feel noticed and warmly welcomed? Are there easy next steps for them to find out more and get connected to others? It takes intentionality on the part of staff and the student leadership of a ministry if the needs of the newcomers are to be met. We don’t always think through how they are going to assimilate into our ministry. As a result we can lose about as many people as we add in any given month.
It’s important to remind your core volunteers and leaders at your weekly service that not everyone who comes to church knows Jesus Christ or has ever been to church before. This seems so obvious but it’s often the basic stuff that we overlook over time. We forget about how anxious and vulnerable students might feel on the “foreign turf” of a church campus. We forget that often, visitors are coming to church because something painful, empty, or enslaving is going on in their life and they are giving church and God a chance for the first time. Challenge your leadership team (via sporadic but timely e-mails or short team meetings pre-service) to have your eyes wide open to look for those people who are standing alone, who you don’t recognize, who look nervous. We never, ever want someone to leave church feeling ignored, or judged, or misunderstood, or unwanted, or forgotten. What if they leave believing that’s how God feels about them? Reaching out to someone new might cost your time, maybe even your image, and often your comfort. But Jesus did not value those things before people, and we shouldn’t, either.
While this value needs to be part of the heartbeat of your ministry and entire leadership team, a specific ministry that is devoted to the art of welcoming, reaching out, and creating a hospitable environment every week is also a great way to make sure your ministry is intentional about creating a loving environment. We have a greeting/hospitality team that we call the “First Impressions” team, because the interactions that these volunteers make when they reach out to people are often the first impression they make of our ministry…and maybe even of God.
The First Impressions Team is led by a volunteer, who is supported by a staff member. The volunteer leader makes sure that greeters are at the doors fifteen minutes before the start of our service to hand out pens and bulletins. Greeters also float around in our auditorium and introduce themselves to students who are sitting by themselves, often asking if they can sit with them so they’re not by themselves. We also position greeters outside to wish students a great night and thank them for coming.
Again, it’s great to have a specific ministry team for hospitality and greeting purposes, but the entire leadership team of your ministry needs to be an example of modeling a heightened awareness of the needs of the students around them. Our leadership team is committed to pushing ourselves, and our volunteers, out of our comfort zones of friends to introduce ourselves to new people. There is so much pain and brokenness that we are all going through, and it’s important to be mindful of the fact that showing someone God’s love through a caring conversation or a simple hug can make a difference in someone’s week. In many cases it’s what ushers in the healing and transformation love of God!
Here are some practical ways your greeting/leadership team can show God’s heart to those who are new or disconnected…
- Find students who are sitting alone and ask if you can sit with them. Introduce yourself to them.
- Pray for divine appointment in your conversations with people.
- Seek out people who look new or confused about the building. Ask them where they go to school, if they work, if they’re new, how they found out about Crave, etc.
- If you do find someone who’s new, tell them about connecting with a small group and invite them to upcoming events—help familiarize them with your ministry. Introduce them to your friends.
- If your students have a normal hangout after your service (our students often go to In-N-Out Burger), invite new people to join you. Help them feel connected.
- Introduce new people to your staff and key volunteers or to students who are “regulars” who can help introduce them around. When we know a student is coming to our midweek worship experience for the first time, we often ask a volunteer to “host” them by showing them around, sitting with them, and introducing them to others.
- Ask that the Holy Spirit would put someone specific on your heart to pray with or for.
“…encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongues but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18