Have you ever been sitting in the church’s auditorium on a Sunday morning, before the worship service begins, when a visitor walks in? Depending on the size of your congregation, there’s usually a commotion that starts from the back of the auditorium that makes its way to the front, and before the new person or group finds a seat, the entire auditorium knows of their presence. In most scenarios, upon that visitor’s arrival, there is an overflowing amount smiles and handshakes that the visitor will experience as they make their way from the entrance to an empty pew, probably closer to the back of the auditorium. A kind and welcoming atmosphere is what the congregation hopes for the visitor to see, in an effort to make it likely that he or she will visit the church again.
Hospitality and niceness are great things for a person to see as they walk into our midst on either a Sunday or Wednesday, and those things are great for Christians to seek as they try to express an interest in the individual who walked in the door. It’s important to keep in mind also that it takes a genuine person with a genuine approach to establish a relationship or experience to inspire someone, who may be new to the church, to keep coming back. This isn’t to say that being hospitable and kind are not genuine attributes of some greeters. Getting lost in the best-foot-forward mentality could be received as a façade rather than the authentic nature that makes up that greeter, though.
In Scripture, it can be observed that relationships with newcomers were founded on people being real with other people, and building on what set apart their church from the others. For example in Acts 2, when Peter and the rest of the apostles were asked what the men should do in regards to the message they had just heard, the response was one that was truthful and real. “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’”.
Although the topic of this dialogue probably isn’t going to be represented in a first-time discussion between a member and a newcomer in a church today, the point from this example can be observed in how the conversation was handled. In this example, the member (Peter) listened the newcomer’s question and treated him with an answer that correlated with the question asked. It shouldn’t be a surprise to notice that key ingredients to making the conversation between the member and the visitor something beneficial is listening and responding! By making it obvious to the visitor that what he or she said is being acknowledged with an appropriate response, the visitor will be brought into the conversation rather than pushed away by a response that just flowed off the tongue by habit.
It’s easy for anyone to be caught in having a surface-level conversation with someone, especially if they don’t know the person they’re speaking with. Certain phrases that have etched themselves into our go-to memory bank are easy to whip out, but may not have much depth. When it comes to our visitors, however, should their experience be traced with conversations like that? It is my challenge that we get out of what is comfortable, when it comes to talking with visitors, and go for the deeper parts of communicating with people who are new to church. By listening and by responding, we may find our way into a new relationship with another soul who is eager to discover what God’s will for them is.