When someone comes to a church for the first few times, who’s responsibility is it to meet them? The folks who are already a part of the church or is it the newcomers themselves?
I’ve noticed a troubling trend in the local church. I’ve talked to a lot of folks who have visited different churches and I’ve heard their stories. I’ve been part of the same church for 16 years and have seen and heard first hand from countless folks who have visited, stayed a while, left, come back and shared their struggles and joys related to these experiences. Here’s the troubling part (#1) – I too often hear from newcomers that no one has greeted them, no one has come over to meet them, tried to get to know them, invited them out to lunch, etc. This is an issue the local church needs to grow in. We should be thrilled when we see new faces and families darken the doors of our churches. We should all be tripping over each other as we run to meet and greet these new folks. This engagement should be absolutely genuine, never faked or forced and should be frequent (greet them again (hopefully by name this time) the next time they come). All local churches should be places where everyone (clean cut looking folks and rough looking folks alike!) feels absolutely and unreservedly welcomed and included.
But here’s the other part that’s troubling (#2). Once a new person or family has been greeted, has been welcomed, has been included and invited in…they also have a responsibility to start engaging with others in the body. I also hear from folks who have been at a place for month and sometimes years that they have no friends, no one that they are getting to know a little more in their church. There comes a tipping point where the newcomer has to take some initiative. They can’t sit inactively and be only a waiting recipient of the right hand of fellowship from others in the local church. They have gifts to offer, insight to provide, life experience to use in relationship building and disciple making and they need to get up out of their seats and engage others with these things. So it’s their responsibility to be an active participant in the body just like it’s the body’s responsibility to engage them. Everyone pursuing everyone. After a little time (and this time is tough to nail down and certainly allows for differences in personalities (introverted, extroverted)), the new folks should be actively introducing themselves to others, asking questions to get to know the folks they’ve met or meeting new folks each week.
The body can’t say it’s just the newbie’s job to get engaged and the newbies can’t rely solely on the body to engage them. This is a two way street thing, a both/and, not an either/or.
Meet someone new this Sunday. If you’re new yourself, go for it and introduce yourself. The church is a body, not a social club you have to be initiated into, not a gang that decides when to accept you into the posse and not a political party you have to be elected to lead. If you are follower of Christ, you have much to offer and you need what the body has to offer you.