Our family has experienced a temporary life transition that had us move to another state in the US for a period of four months, away from our church, away from our social networks, and away from our friends.
Four months not enough time
- to visit many churches
- to look for a church home.
- to build long lasting relationships.
- to really even get to be known by church members.
Our move is only temporary, so we made a decision to pick a church where some friends attend and just stay there.
Our overall experience.
This puts us in a real life experience of
- being the first time visitor in a church and
- experience the challenges of getting connected.
Church members are friendly. Sermons are relevant and connect Scripture to life.
For example, on our second visit, one church member personally invited my young daughter to children’s church.
When she agreed to go (and be with a bunch of strangers), he personally led me and my daughter through the maze of their building to the children’s church class.
He was not “on duty” that Sunday as an usher or greeter, but, chose to extend this grace of welcome. I was invited to stay around and provide a comforting presence to my daughter until she seemed to be ok with the new group.
My daughter is social and outgoing, but I can imagine that she was somewhat intimidated at walking into
- a new space,
- with 25 new kids,
- a new teacher,
- no friends yet.
The teacher did a great job in helping my daughter start to join in with the activities of the class, and I was able to return to the service.
How do we get in?
This is a relatively large church. I’m not sure how many people are actually involved, but there are
- 3 services on a Sunday,
- lots of different options for Sunday school,
- snacks at good coffee hour after the one service we attend
- lots of programming announcements in the multi-page bulletin.
It’s a busy Sunday morning when we navigate the building to find our kids, get some coffee, and so on.
There really isn’t much time to make friends in the small window between services and Sunday school starting.
So that leaves us with the question, how do we develop friends in a new church?
Here is some of our experience as we tried to find something to get involved in during our temporary time.
I don’t want any of this perceived as complaint, but as observations of what happened as we tried to connect and assimilate ourselves into this congregation.
We filled out the connection form for two weeks, but it did not seem to trigger any kind of response that I expected:
- a letter,
- a phone call,
- a visit,
- bag of cookies
- informational packet
I had assumed of a church this size that we’d receive some informational pieces about the church that could tell us more about the places we could connect.
As we looked over the bulletin each week, the programs that got more detailed descriptions didn’t appeal to us or our life situation: Grief care groups, divorce care groups, recovery groups.
Most of the other bulletin announcements seemed to be logistical details of schedule changes, room changes,volunteer signups, and other stuff that members needed to know.
There was a logo for a program called “Connections” but no description of what that was.
We determined at least to let our kids go to Sunday school that happens after the service we attend. For our kids – it was an easy option. One Sunday school class for middle schoolers and one Sunday school class for the grade in elementary school.
But for us, we didn’t see a descriptive list of Sunday school classes, or know how to get one. We only saw a class title and room number. There were several classes for adults to choose from with nothing more than a title and room number.
The end result for us was
- too many options
- with too little information
- and no clear simple next step.
So we made a default choice of simply hanging out at the coffee hour while our kids went to Sunday school.
So what happened?
An observant church member noted our lingering during the coffee time (after many people went to the next service or Sunday School).
They personally invited us to their choice of Sunday school class and took the time to tell us about the other classes that were happening, and we happily went along with them.
After a good Sunday school experience, our kids wanted to go to Wednesday night youth group. When I showed up to deliver the kids to youth group,some friendly church members
- personally led us the youth room,
- made friendly small talk
- invited me to visit with one of the many classes.
- took me to each class to meet with the leader to briefly here a description.
I found a Wednesday night class that I could attend.
The Sunday school class and the Wednesday night class have become places where we are starting to make friends.
Effective communications for church visitors
I recognize this church has a challenge with it’s size about finding ways to communicate “all you need to know” in a weekly bulletin and a church this size has lots of great programming that competes for bulletin space each week.
I eventually found a descriptive list of Sunday School classes and Wednesday night programming, but that happened after I had been going to their programming.
I eventually learned learned that “Connections” was their Wednesday night supper program before their evening classes and that it would be a great place to meet new people and make friends.
This raises the question:
- How does a church guide a visitor to an easy and low commitment next step?
In a future article, I’ll address what might have been helpful and the larger application that churches need to consider in their assimilation process.
- Share in the comments below what your church does to guide a bewildered return visitor to a simple next step?