Singling Out Newcomers in Church

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Jollyblogger's recent post on whether churches should advertize gets into some interesting issues about the goal of advertizing. In particular, what sort of people do the advertizements intend to attract, and does that fit with the purposes of what a gathering of believers is for? What sort of people do we want coming to visit our congregations, and how do we get them there?

I'm not going to get into those issues, though I think they're worth thinking about. What drove me to comment (and thus, now, to expand on my comment here) was his side discussion of whether it's good to single out newcomers, in particular whether it makes a difference if the person is a Christian or a nonbeliever. Several people in the comments were saying that Christians like to be singled out, but nonbelievers aren't very comfortable with that. I don't think it's that simple. Some nonbelievers might like being noticed, but I think the more important issue is that not all Christians will want to be singled out. Extroverted Christians might like that, but if I visit a church and they do something like that I tend to get really turned off. I don't like to be made the center of attention (unless I'm doing something specifically requiring it like teaching, in which case I then won't want people not paying attention).

Our congregation allows people to introduce themselves if they feel comfortable doing so but puts no pressure on them. The last time we visited somewhere that singled us out as visitors, they trooped us up to the front of the congregation and made us stay up there for way too long, and we had to keep the kids under control while there. I left thinking of it as one of the worst church experiences I'd ever had, at least in part because of that (though there were some other things). It's completely counterproductive to do that sort of thing, even on a less offensive scale than what happened to us.

I have, however, seen Christians complain that no one talks to them after a service. While that's a real problem in a congregation, it shows you the misplaced priorities of the people who are complaining. The primary purpose of a Christian in attending a church is to serve God in that congregation. It is not to have our needs met. That's why other people are involved. Other people do have a responsibility to see to it that our needs are met. Our responsibility is not to see to it that they do so or to complain when they don't. It's to see what place we may have to serve others.

Given that so many people I've encountered have this attitude of thinking of church as a place for others to meet our needs, it's interesting that they can then complain about others' self-centeredness and insularity in cases when others don't meet their needs. The self-centeredness and insularity isn't exclusive to those not meeting their needs. It's part of their original method of evaluating the others, because that stems from a self-centered, insular focus to begin with. But this isn't all that surprising in the end. After all, selfishness breeds selfishness. It's often people who are part of a problem who continue to complain about the problem without recognizing their own role in perpetuating it.

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Jeremy Pierce at Parableman has responded/elaborated on my post about Tim Keller and advertising at Redeemer with a post called Singling Out Newcomers in Church. He talks about how some of the things we do to make visitors feel welcome Read More

7 Comments

Jeremy,
which comments On David's post are you responding to? I just looked through David's post again and could only see mine being anything about how people are met/welcomed at church (I may have missed some-one else's).

My comment over there was about non-Christians. The only thing I said about Christians was that they seem to like being met by the pastor - and I didn't mean publicly singled out. But my experience in churches here is that people are always commenting on whether or not the pastor came and said hello after the service when they visited a church.

My comments re: non-Christians were not meant as opposites or a polar view to what Christians prefer. I agree that Christians personalities differ and not everyone wants to be singled out. I prefer not to be myself. I was thinking very much about non-Christians though when I commented. If it's my comment you are responding to.

Ok I think I see what happened.

I said in part of my comment:
"I didn't want to be fussed over, and being honest I didn't give a toss about meeting the pastor - that is more of a Christian thing I agree."

I meant meeting the pastor is more of a Christian thing - not being fussed over. I suppose I should have split it into two sentences so it was clear. But then I was leaving my thoughts off the top in a comment, not writing a blog post. :)

No, I was responding to David directly. He had said:

Which also reminds me that Christians and non-Christians have different expectations when they go to a church. Someone once pointed out to me that Christians like to be fussed over when they visit a church. So, they like it when the pastor singles them out either through having them stand or having them sit while everyone else stands. But non-Christians find this off-putting and are more likely to run if they are singled out.

You happened to be saying something on the same issue, but my original comment and then this post were responses to his post. I hadn't even read the comments yet when I originally decided to post my comment.

Thanks for clarifying that. You say this in your post:
"Several people in the comments were saying that Christians like to be singled out, but nonbelievers aren't very comfortable with that. I don't think it's that simple."

So I looked through the comments and the only comment that actually discussed how people are welcomed was mine. I was thinking of non-Christians because the post was about a guy who was more interested in having non-Christians visit his church than "Christian tourists".

Thanks.

Ah, I was simply noting that there was some kind of agreement in the comments and what David said in the post. I wasn't thinking of any particular comments, and if yours was the only one then it might have spawned that sentence, but it was more what I was remembering after quickly looking through the comments and less any particular way anyone, including you, might have worded anything.

Thanks for clarifying that. Hope you had a good weekend.

Jeremy,
I offer an idea you may or may not have seen already.

The pastor asks, "Has anyone met someone new today?" Then, a member who has engaged the visitors in conversation during a meet-and-greet period stands and tells the congregation about the nice people he/she has just met. This allows members to know who the first time visitors are and follow up as necessay, while minimizing the embarrassment factor. I've only seen it in one church, but it has stuck with me ever since.

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