Thursday, January 29, 2009

New Faces at Church

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

Two hours before I sat down to write these words to you; I sat down over coffee with a young woman interested in First Christian Church. She and I recently met at a seminar at MWSU and it turned out that she works with a church member. In addition to our conversation over at the college, her coworker told her about First Christian and invited her to visit. During the time she was thinking about coming on a Sunday morning, she saw our TV commercial and figured that through all of these encounters with First Christian God was trying to tell her something. She has visited two Sundays in a row, met with me and she plans on continuing to visit on Sundays.

For me, her interest in First Christian is very exciting. I hope it is exciting for you too. First, this means that I am not scaring people off from First Christian when I meet them out in the community—always good to know. Second, it means that First Christian people feel good enough about their church to invite others to visit—people who are looking for an open-minded and welcoming church. Third, thanks to our marketing campaign the level of awareness of FCC is growing in the community—we are becoming more than just one more anonymous church building that people drive by. Fourth, when people visit they feel welcome.

In recent weeks, we have had a lot of new faces on Sunday mornings. So far in 2009, over 30 visitors have been in worship. On January 18th alone, 20 visitors were in worship. Even on the 25th when the weather was bad and many of our own folks did not make it to church, we still had 12 visitors! Some of these folks were not first-timers but have been visiting for a while. Others, however, were visiting our church for the first time. A number of the visitors received one of the postcards we mailed out in December and came to our Christmas Eve service. Apparently they enjoyed that service enough to come back after the holidays. Not all of these folks will end up making First Christian their church home, but the odds are that many will if they feel welcome.

In addition to the Marketing Committee’s efforts, in recent months the Membership Recruitment and Personal Involvement Committee (some folks call it the Pie Committee and lately we’ve just been calling it the Membership Committee) have been working to train greeters and provide events for members and visitors to interact (coffee and donuts anyone?). They are continuing to develop more ways to follow up with visitors and get new members involved. All of this work is important, but even more important is the personal welcome visitors receive when they are sitting in the pews.

The good news is that visitors and new members alike report to me that they appreciate the welcome and greetings they receive from church members. First Christian members, you are apparently doing a great job with this important task of hospitality! I also have noted with pride and joy that First Christian is not afraid to allow new members to not only get involved and share their ideas but even take positions of leadership. I have had the experience of joining a church only to discover that there was an inner circle and not all members were equal—what a disappointment. I’m glad to say that is not the case at First Christian. Long-time members and newcomers alike worship and serve alongside one another.

This week marks two years that I have been at First Christian Church. We have a vibrant and open community of faith to offer St. Joseph and people are beginning to discover it. In my time here, 31 people have become members of First Christian—a great number for a church of our size and more will be coming soon. A few people have offered me the credit for “bringing in” these new members, but that is a compliment I humbly refuse to accept. A church is far more than its minister. In my experience, a church’s minister may be reason enough for a person not to join, but rarely, if ever, do people join a church for the minister. People join a church and commit to it for many reasons, but the biggest reason—even bigger than doctrine, worship style and programs--is they feel welcome and included.

There are people in St. Joseph who are hungry for the kind of faith community that we have here at First Christian Church. I look forward to working with you to share First Christian with them.

Grace and Peace,


1 comment:

bobbie d said...

I think I recognize that conversation ;) Thanks again for meeting with me, and thank you to all of the Church members who continue to make this visitor feel welcome!

Oh, and it was out of complete exhaustion that I didn't make it last Sunday. I didn't want you to think you scared me away after all!