“They Acted As If They Had Been Waiting For Me To Arrive!”
As a part of my efforts to discover what it is about church that brings people coming back week after week, I have been exploring the extent to which people felt “welcomed” in one way or another might contribute to a person’s “return next week”.
Not surprisingly, people did share story after story about how they felt buoyed each week by a smile or two or three, the use of their name, a question about how things were going, or a conversation with a friend about a recent vacation. These are the ways we humans, as social-beings, typically determine that we are known, welcomed and accepted. Those feeling are important to our sense of well-being, which in turn is important to our health and longevity.
But how about the new person in church, the one who shows up for the first time on a Sunday morning, or who comes to her first older-adult ministry program? What do we church members do to affect the well-being of that person -- to make them feel welcomed? What happens at church to increase the likelihood that those new people will return to see us next Sunday?
This is especially important question for older adults. Often we move later in life to be closer to a relative. When we move, we typically have no readily accessible “social group”. We have no work colleagues to get to know as we settle in to our new community.
The title of this blog is a comment from one of the respondents to my question. When she was a newcomer in a community and went to an older adult activity at a near-by church, she was surprised by how many people came up to her and asked about her life in one way or another. She said that they expressed great pleasure, even excitement, that she was going to be a part of this church.
This dilemma reminded me of a community psychologist colleague of mine who examined differences between high schools in their ability to integrate new students into the school. As it turned out, the high schools that were more stable and comfortable for existing students (because of a low turn-over of students), the more difficult it was for new students to “break in” and feel included. It was the more open and fluid high schools, those with a number of students coming and going each year, that seemed better at truly welcoming new students to be a part of the community.
I wonder how much churches are like high schools?