Monday, September 08, 2008

Welcome Lesson

Yesterday, we got the opportunity to visit a different congregation. It was one of Andrew's first outings. It was an interesting experience... to not be the one on the inside or the one in charge. Here are a few observations that I made about our worship experience.

* We arrived and the parking lot was full. We had to park on the street, meaning on one of the very first times using the car seat we had to swing our sweet little cargo out onto the street. Made us a little nervous.
* We got inside and the folks we perceived to be greeters kind of stared a little, but didn't really say "hi" but continued with their conversation with their friends.
* Upon arrival to the sanctuary it was packed. We didn't really feel like we had permission to ask anyone to skootch over and those who saw us looking lost didn't really offer. We tried a couple of entrances and nobody really helped us at first, but we did have a few people rush past us so they could steal the couple of seats we were aiming for. Finally, a really nice fellow (an usher I believe) helped us get a seat.
* We sat in the very back where folks were regularly going in and out. It made me nervous every time someone walked by that they were going to kick the car seat, and our precious little cargo. (The floor in front of us was the only option for setting him down.)
* I was nervous throughout the service because because Andrew is still young enough that there is no warning between content and sleeping and screaming for food or diaper change. If it happened, I wanted to be ready to leave immediately...and I didn't know how people would react.
* I loved that they had multiple flavor options for coffee. Each one I tried was great.
* They must be doing something right in making people feel a part of the family as there were lots of little kids fussing and squawking throughout the service. At times it sounded almost like being in the school gym before a game. I loved it. We even had a couple of teenagers sitting by themselves next to us, one of whom was texting his way through the service.
* I loved how the pastors led the service in a relaxed way teaching their way through the service.

I think they did a lot of things great to try and establish a welcoming atmosphere. Yet at the same time I didn't feel terribly welcomed. I felt uncomofortable most of the time there. Much of it was my own issues I'll admit. However, it really made me think about those people coming to visit at other times who aren't as versed in the liturgy, etc. as we are. How must they feel? What must that experience be like?.... Anyone have any thoughts about what we can do as a church to help make people feel more welcomed? Share your comments. I honestly want to know.

2 comments:

Tim Meek said...

Pastor Brad,

Coming from someone who recently joined CLC and who grew up in a very different denomination with less structure, I think CLC does a pretty good job of not alienating guests. My wife grew up in a small town Missouri Synod church where I attended with her for several years during our courtship, engagement, and start of marriage. I always felt very out of place there and never included in the "family of god". From my perspective here are some of the things done right at CLC:
- You and Pastor Dave never assume everyone should know exactly where we are in the liturgy, or the service. You always provide clear instruction, such as "We begin on page 102.", "Now we turn to page 120 and declare our faith in the words of the Apostles Creed.", "Please stand as you are able."
- Both of you give messages in a style more indicative of a living room chat rather than a lecture. I personally appreciate that, and I imagine others do as well.
- Time with children in children's stories and during baptisms reinforces that we are all part of a family.
- Moving to consistent teachers for River of Life is the right thing to do, especially for younger kids. They need to feel a sense of belonging.
- Other members have almost always been willing to help my family find seating by moving over or letting us pass.
- Several times when we first attended the church, people came up to us after the service, introduced themselves, and inquired about us.

As always, I'm certain we could make improvements and the most significant time would be after services, during coffee hour, or in the narthex. That is a good time for Welcome committee members to circulate, find visitors, and make them feel like honored guests.

Congratulations on the birth of your son and don't worry so much about what others think of crying babies. Most people have been there too, or are there.

pb said...

Tim,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. I am glad you have had such a positive experience at CLC. I hope others have experienced the same. I know it's always an ongoing challenge for congregations to figure out how to be welcoming. My hope is that it would be a part of a congregations DNA, but unfortunately that's not always the case. So it continues to be a challenge set before all of us as a church, whether it be CLC, another congregation, or even the larger Christian church.