“Welcoming,” says Craig Catlett of United Methodist Communications, “is bringing the friendly to the people.” It’s not as simple as meeting people at the door with a bulletin, handshake, and a smile anymore; churches have to communicate their values and presence clearly, both inside and outside the church building.
First impressions are the beginning of welcoming. Churches should use images and words that powerfully share what kind of church they are and what their priorities are, both within the church and in advertising outside the church. Effective communication also includes being mindful of nonverbal cues: body language, the intonations and volume of one’s voice, how both members and visitors occupy space, eye contact, touch, and other forms of communication. Signage and advertising inside and outside the building should be clear, easy to read, and avoid insider language. Church websites, which are generally the first point of contact for adults seeking a church, should be high-quality, informative, and consistent with the church’s values and priorities.
Knowing the community around the church is key to reaching new people. Churches can use demographic information such as that available from MissionInsite through the annual conference to understand the economic, religious, racial, ethnic, and age makeup of their area and begin to understand and connect with real needs. Millennials and seekers want to help those who are hurting, want to feel a sense of community and belonging, appreciate insightful teaching and preaching, are attracted by a passion for peace and justice, and are concerned about poverty, human trafficking, racial issues, and immigration reform. Welcoming churches engage these needs.
Using research from the Barna Group and UMCOM surveys, Catlett pointed out that the highest values in common among United Methodists clergy, leaders, and members include an emphasis on God’s grace, an open communion table, and a strong scriptural foundation. Connecting the values above to these United Methodist values can be a fruitful means of engaging the community. Viewing service as a form of welcome allows Millennials and seekers to connect with God’s grace as they help others. Additionally, welcoming people into the church for purposes other than worship can help seekers become more comfortable with the idea of becoming a part of a church. Suggestions included workshops on grief, addiction, health care, and other items of interest to the community, hosting community programs like tutoring, and community gardening.
Connecting welcoming to generosity, Catlett reminded session members that “how we treat people, how we give money to others, is part of our connectional nature,” and that as United Methodists, the North Carolina conference consistently pays 100% of connectional apportionments, funding ministry and missions locally and globally in ways individual churches could not. Christopher Chapman, a student at UNC Pembroke, spoke about how Special Sunday giving for United Methodist Student Day funds a scholarship that allows him to pursue his passion for medicine without feeling pressure to sacrifice school, church, and opportunities for service to take a second job. Catlett encouraged churches to use the joyfully2UMC app to increase online giving to churches.