Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Making people welcome - Do we?

I'm sure we all like to think of ourselves as a welcoming church but is this really true?

One of the people who came to a colleague's church last weekend told them that they'd tried another in the area and managed, even though the congregation was relatively small (around twenty) they managed to enter, take part in the service, and leave without being greeted or in any way engaged with. Knowing the dogcollar in that church I know that they would be saddened and disturbed by such a report and yet, also knowing the church (and having heard this regarding them before), I am confident that there is some truth in it.

Every year we have a visit from a mystery worshipper (MW) and this has proved really helpful for the church in that it highlights the things that we are doing well and brings to our attention the things we are missing. 

We like to think of ourselves as a welcoming and friendly bunch and yet, on one such visit, the MW managed to enter the building and visiting the toilet first, creep in during the melee at the back where Christmas cards were being sorted out, and sit down unnoticed. And then they were greeted by the people around them and engaged with and made to feel welcome.


It shows that, because we have someone at the door in the worship area rather that at the 'front door', we can miss that first, perhaps all-important, greeting.

Other thing we have been marked down for were the street signs (kids and council issue), the bins being out front (but there's nowhere else for them to go) and the 'basic biscuits' (their words) that were on offer (Jaffa cakes last week - Lent, never heard of it . . and yes, I know Sundays are outside of Lent!).

So, back to the latest report of not being engaged with, welcomed or waved off. How on earth can we do such a thing and hope to see our congregations grow? Some might say that that's a problem with evensong, for I can believe someone crept in, did and left without engagement at a non-Eucharistic service but (always a 'but'):

I have recently heard of someone who came to a Sunday parish communion and although they were given a sheet for the service and welcomed, were not spoken to or otherwise engaged with (other than a handshake at the peace) until they left. At the end, people vanished out back or sat in groups and chatted and they, after sitting in their seat for five minutes were totally ignored! And this is in a church where numbers are falling and the billed strategy is welcome and growth. Perhaps this could explain the continued fall in numbers.

So here's a plea: Please have a think about being a welcoming church. This doesn't mean that you engage the use of the dreaded 'Welcome Team' with their cheesy and often false-feeling pinning down of any unfortunate who happens to enter the building. What I mean is that we should BE a welcoming church rather than have a welcoming team. What's the point of doing the cheesy smile and then sitting the person amongst people who are interested only in their own little clique or circle friends?

One lady who visited us came because she'd tried another church and they were just a little too welcoming. They felt like they'd been assigned an escort who stuck with them throughout the service, the after service tea/coffee/squash and a biscuit thing and even walked with her to their car. they felt pressurised and that the whole thing was false, for having been assigned a minder everyone else ignored her.

Sadly she didn't stay as she found us a bit cramped - too many people in such a small space :-(

Why don't you ask a friend to come and visit your church and report back or perhaps, like us, you have such a scheme in the diocese.

The first thing a visitor remembers is the welcome - everything else merely adds (or detracts) from the church experience.

How's your?


DrJ said...

I think that one of the difficulties is that different visitors have different needs and wants, which they may only be very dimly aware of themselves. I quite take your point about having a guide assigned, which comes up occasionally in the Mystery Worshipper reports from Ship of Fools.

18 months ago I was in a bad place, much of my own making. I was taking a missionary friend on furlough around to some of her local link churches, and knew one or two people at most of them, but although they were all welcoming, I felt no inspiration for myself. I went along to the church I now attend again partly because I knew a couple of the members, although did not actually see them there for some time. But, thank God, the members managed that fine line between welcoming but not over-attentive, which would probably have frightened me away at the time. I wanted to sit and listen and think. Yet after a few weeks, a very simple greeting from someone in the same pew led to a dam-burst of my woes and tears, to which poor Jeff responded magnificently. It was absolutely the right greeting at the right time for me, but might well have been useless for another visitor, or off-putting to a third.
With hindsight, I can see the work of the Holy Spirit clearly, that is what any church which wants to be welcoming has to seek.
One of my new friends there only started attending because his wife was no longer prepared to go only on alternate Sundays while he was at work. He also says that it was the welcome that caught him, initially he was suspicious that people must be out to get something from him, but then he realised that they meant their greetings at face value, and he wanted to know why they were like that. He now works for a Christian charity.

George F said...

I have found a welcome team invaluable. They will know who is regular and who is new and have the confidence to engage with new people. But I fully take your point about minders. The role of the welcomer is not to stick with the new person like glue but to introduce them to others and ensure they are not on their own. Then it works really well.