We need to open the front door to people, but we also need to close the front door; to stop them simply walking on through. There are no silver bullets to church growth. But as a Church Growth Officer, I do believe that our welcome is pivotal to the growth of God’s Kingdom in our local churches.
Welcome makes sense practically. We can share the good news of Jesus Christ for all we’re worth in our communities; but that work will be for nought if, when they are invited back to into our church community, our welcome and integration is so impoverished that the newcomer is unable to make a home there.
Perhaps more importantly, welcome also makes sense theologically. We don’t just welcome people because that way we’d get more people in our church services. Church growth isn’t about numbers of people present on a Sunday morning. If that were the case, we could spend our entire church budget on giving away free gifts on a Sunday. They’d come!
We welcome because it is a reflection of the Kingdom of God, and our mission is the Mission of God – to bring in His Kingdom:
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Hebrews 13:1-2 (NRSV)
Welcome is a part of our common life. We are to be an open community with blended edges, called to grow and make disciples.
But what does it really mean to welcome? Many churches say ‘we’re welcoming’ – but often this means that we’re nice to each other! Often when we think of welcome, we focus on the greeting at the door. Welcome, however, goes a lot farther than this.
Bob Jackson writes:
True welcome is about active encouragement into the heart of the community of the church, and its job is not done until someone is completely at home, a valued, contributing member of the body of Christ.
Everybody Welcome Leaders’ Manual, Bob Jackson and George Fisher, p6
The Everybody Welcome Course is a great way to help educate the whole church about welcome – from making links into the community through to training a welcome team. It’s a five week course (the first four weeks for the whole church, the fifth week aimed at the welcome team), with DVD resources, leaders’ guides and participants’’ handbooks. It’s been used and well received in this and other dioceses across a range of traditions. Why not consider it for your church?
Everybody Welcome course materials are available from Church House Publishing. For more information, see http://www.chpublishing.co.uk/features/everybody-welcome.