How can I do something different to make visitors feel at ease?
If any church wishes to survive, it needs to grow. If it is to grow, it needs to attract newcomers. And if it wishes to keep new people who attend services coming back, it needs to give careful consideration to this group of people.
The first way we make things difficult for newcomers is by not properly welcoming them. I believe StB generally has a warm, welcoming and caring culture, but I do pray that members of the congregation will catch the vision of seeing our church grow and consciously work to welcome and engage each new person who comes through the doors of our church.
The second way we make things difficult is by using “Christian speak”. We must be very careful, in all our communications, to explain ourselves in language that is accessible… and easy to understand. We must guard against using confusing Christian clichés, which have little meaning to those with no church background. Language is the basis of good communication, and we must be clear and modern in all our communications.
Finally, from a personal point of view we must be careful with the Anglican Liturgy. While the Liturgy is beautifully written… and packed with meaning, the prayer book can be very difficult to follow for a newcomer. After 30 years in the Anglican church, I still sometimes get lost as to what page we are on when the priest suddenly jumps to a new section. This is why we have motivated to have the liturgy on the projection screen. We simply want to make the words easily accessible to all… especially to those who may be new.
The inverse answer: 1 Cor 9:19-27
The unknown is always the biggest threat. To step out of a security zone is hard for many people, and so coming to church can be a real challenge for the visitor.
And it is we, the people of St Barnabas, the ones "in the know", who are the bridge between someone finding value from their visit, or leaving with hardened hearts.
Of course there's other issues; the physical environment, the songs, the message, etc. And while these are secondary, lets consider them quickly. Dark closed entrances, echo filled halls with junior school chairs, poor lighting, language and rituals that makes no sense, songs that are hard to sing or stylistically boring or filled with imagery that is obscure: these all serve to make the battle to connect all that much harder. For this reason we need to consider how we can invest in making it easier for people to enter our home.
Changing our physical environment and how we do things in order make people at ease is essential ... and I believe it's time we invested in this. We exist for the people outside the building!
But, at the heart of the church are us. The StB people have always been friendly, but that sometimes makes it even more difficult because we easily gather into groups with those we know, and strangers are easily left on the outside.
This is the real challenge: for you and I to pro-actively look for how we can better serve others. It starts with simple things: do we sit apart from others, do we speak to those we don't know, do we leave as soon as a service is over, do we talk more than listen?
It's 1 Cor 9:19-27 all over again. Let's run the race together.