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Monday, June 18, 2007

Reaching New People

Thanks for your comments on the gospel imperatives. I encourage you to continue to talk with your churches about them.

However, this year we're focusing especially on reaching new people. What is it, in your estimation, that keeps us from being as effective as we might in that regard?

There seems to be at least two different angles on reaching new people.

1) Reaching the new people who actually walk in our doors. Last Sunday a new person to the community (long time United Methodist elsewhere) who had been church shopping for a couple of months woke up and prayed, "Dear God, please let someone talk to me when I go to church this morning." We obviously have some work to do, given this person's 5-6 weeks of church shopping in United Methodist churches in Minnesota.

What keeps us from reaching new people who actually walk through our doors?

2) Reaching the new people who live in our communities. What keeps us from identifying a community of people--a specific age or ethnic group--and effectively including them in the life of our church (through worship or other outreach)?


Bishop Sally


Rev. Debra J. Wells said...

I have been in the unusual situation of 'church shopping'just recently and I can relate to the prayer, 'Lord, please let someone speak to me.' Whether I was in a church as a member of a couple or as a single woman, few people took the time to genuinely greet me. There was the information desk at which I could receive information about the church community and sometimes a free item; there were consistently the greeters at the door who quickly shook my hand, and sometimes, there were ushers who cordially found or directed me to a seat.
But rarely did anyone else do anything more than nod in my direction. And I can understand why. Who is this person? Are they new or have I just not noticed them before? What if I greet them as new and they are founding members of the church? How embarrassing would that be? Best not embarrass them or me.
Then there is the issue of the worship service. I felt very left out of many of the services. As a single, newly divorced person the language of family was very biased toward the traditional (which isn't traditional anymore) 2 parent home, Additionally, much of what was said during worhship, even during the sermon, referred to inside issues of the church, budget shortfalls, mission work of the church, or honoring people within the congregation without adequate information for those who didn't know them.
And the social time afterwards was awkward as I tried to not look too conspicuous as a single person standing around with my Styrofoam cup of coffee.
Because I was trying to find a charge conference, I really wanted to know what was happening in this church I was visiting. Much of the time I found that the language used about community life was spoken in code. Unless a person was in the know know about the community she was not able to understand what was actually scheduled and to what she would be welcomed.
My experience re-taught me that each time we plan a worship service we need to plan to welcome unexpected guests graciously and with words, actions, published materials and announcements which invite their full participation in the life of the congregation for this moment in which they are a part of the congregation. We must not assume that everyone in the room knows the language of our community, the code words which help us speak among ourselves about our community or even the names or positions of those participating in worship.
In order to begin to reach new people we need to be crafting worship services at which all people can be fully welcomed and included as members of the worshiping community.

Oh and it would be really helpful if people would wear their nametags.

Rev. Debra J. Wells
Appointment: Luther Seminary
Charge Conference: Brooklyn UMC

Jeff Ozanne said...

I think the two different angles that Bishop Sally mentions offer us an important insight into the challenge of reaching new people. When we think about welcoming people into our church, it is usually with the idea that they are coming to be a part of what we already are. The challenge in that lies mostly with them fitting in with the church as it already is. This sort of "outreach" is easier for the church. All that is required is that we greet people, invite them to join us, and do our best to make them feel at home. The majority of the effort and risk lies with them. What is challenging for a church is outreach that requires the church to step outside of itself. Suddenly rather than expecting people to come to us and be like us, we are required to find ways to go to them and to be like them. Now the risk lies much more with the church. We are now the ones that face the fear of rejection, we are now the ones that have to decide how much we are willing to change what we do to be accepted into the community. When I talk about change I am not talking about changing our core beliefs, but it does mean we need to think about how we present them, are church dinners really the best way to reach a new generation of church goers, would be one example.
I think the challenge for a church to reach out should give us a better appreciation for what people go through who come to visit us. If we are not willing to take the risks required to go out and reach new people and step outside of our comfortable and familiar ways, how can we expect others to do the same and come to us?

Walter Lockhart said...

At Walker Church we have Sunday service in the park every other week in the summer. This week during our closing circle as we were holding hands and singing amazing grace, a young man came up and watched us sing. Several of us motioned for him to come join us in the circle, but he declined. As we started the last verse he left and was out of sight by the end of the song.

I wonder if we did enough to welcome him. Should I have left the circle and gone to greet him? Should other have reached out to him?

The park we are having services in is in the midst of a possible gang war. How important our presence and reaching out is to the world in which we live.

I am feeling called to leave my comfort zone and find ways for our community to radically greet our neighbors and reach out with hope.

Our churches our not places to escape reality, we are mission centers called to engage the world around us.


Bishop Sally Dyck said...

As Walter's example provides, it's important for a congregation from time to time to actually leave the four walls in order to connect with the world.

What are other ways to literally leave the four walls as the church to be the church in the world?

Pastor Amanda said...

We left the walls of our church by throwing a party. Last night we had a neighborhood party at our church. Free food, music (with kids dancing for the entire event), games like a bouncy room, and plenty of tables in the shade made for a perfect event. People had a chance to meet their neighbors. The message we tried to give to our neighbors is that this is a church that cares about the surrounding community. No pressure, just a sign that we care and are there for them, should they need us. Many were people who had other churches. Most we will never see again. Yet all who were present shared in the energy of our congregation. With the Spirit's prompting, perhaps they will share this with others.

In more practical terms, we publicized it through working with our neighborhood association (and the communication networks they have in place.) I highly, highly recommend having a presence at your neighborhood association. They even passed out over 200 fliers door to door. We also had an announcement at our Saturday Noon Meal for persons in need, large signs outside the church and a blurb in our local paper. Many of our members who live in the neighborhood (and two of our pastors) invited their neighbors personally.

Robert Kutter said...

We at Grey Eagle UMC will address the two imperatives with a round table discussion.
Elected leader and all who are interesed are invited to attend the discussion that will lead to some specific actions.
Thanks for the ideas embedded in the blog entries.

Clay said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ryan said...

I believe that most Churches look at this the wrong way. Instead of looking at membership we should be looking at whether someone is saved. I think it is a shame that often times we care more about membership and less about whether someone is going to Heaven or Hell. I'm not talking about going on the corner and Bible thumping. I'm talking about making a friend and hopefully leading that friend threw a prayer similar to the one that I said when I became a Christan. I would rather show someone that God is willing to save a wrench like me than say be a member with me. If someone is not called to be a member of the church that I go to, I will be glad to point them in the direction of a better church for them. I believe that God cares more about whether someone follows him than what church they go to. I believe thats what God showed us in the Bible. I know that there are other people that are smarter than me but thats the way that I see it.



Jerry Gale said...

As someone who has spend the past three years as chairman of HAUMC's new member committee, I have thought, read, discussed and prayed a lot about this topic.

The first and most important thing to say is that there are no easy answers to reaching new members. One of the things I did was to call the other large churches in downtown Minneapolis. They all were struggling with the same issue and no one had easy answers.

It seems to me that reaching new members is a five step process:
1. Getting them into the door.
2. Being welcoming and hospitable to them once they are in the door.
3. Plugging them into the community of the church.
4. Making them members of the church. (Steps three and four can be reversed)
5. Increasing their faith.

I think that the most difficult step is number one. How do you get the people who are not members of any church to visit your church?
To repeat, there is no easy answer to this question.

From what I have read, the answer is to have events at your church that bring in people from the community. The best and most successful example of this in the Twin Cities is the Basilica Block Party. The Basilica reported that they have increased membership since they have been having the block party.

But, it is difficult to stage one large event. A more realistic solution is to stage several (or many) events that will attract community members. This does not need to be a Sunday morning event. In fact, it might be more effective if the event was on a Friday or Saturday night.

Also, we need to be realistic. It makes the most sense to have events that attract young adults because that age group will help the church to grow.

It also is important to collect information on the visitors in a non-threating way so that you can communicate with them. That probably means getting an email address.

Well, I could go on and on, but that is enough for now. I have appreciated the other comments about this topic.

Don said...

In helping a metropolitan church to grow we did have to overcome several of the points mentioned by jerry gale. We could not assume any would know about special activities, regular services or what we offered as a church. Crass publicity was our only hope so we put flyers in our neighborhood newspaper; stepped up our regular ads; bought lists of names and invited people of specific age groups to activities. Some came with invitations in hand. In two years of intense work the church school increased dramatically as well as worship attendance. It did help that we had spent 6 months defining our specific mission in the community before starting.