Updated: Feb 14
Did you know that besides the Fall back-to-school season, the Christmas & New Year's holiday season is the time when we see the most first time guests at church? We seem to be wired to have seasons of starting new things, turning over a new leaf, setting new goals, and adjusting our lives to new priorities. These times create huge opportunities for us to welcome new people into an authentic, friendly community where we can all grow together and flourish.
Every few years, we do a census of our attendees at Hope Church. We learn a lot from these and the surprising thing is that the answers we get are fairly consistent over the years from census to census. For example, we consistently hear that the top 4 reasons people come back after visiting Hope are: the sermon, the worship music, friendliness, and children's ministry. In addition to that, the reason people even come to Hope Church in the first place is because a family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor invited them to come (in 2018, 71% of people said this is why they first came to Hope). So, people come because there's a relationship; people stay because there's a relationship! This is so reassuring because it's really not that hard to be friendly.
Let me share a story of the experience I had when our family first started attending Hope back in 2003. The first Sunday we came, we loved the sermon and the music. We loved that the Hope people we came in contact with all seemed so authentic about their faith, but also not fake or phony putting on their Sunday face like everything was perfect in their lives. Within a few weeks, a few people knew our names and addressed us by name and welcomed us. Within the first month, another Hope family invited us to go to lunch after church. We made a great connection and it cemented the fact that Hope Church was where we wanted to be; where we could engage and grow with other people like us who actually wanted to be friends with us. By the way, this family were long-time Hope attendees who already had lots of friends - they didn't need us to be their friends, but they were interested in welcoming us and helping us connect. IT MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE! So here's a challenge for this upcoming season - 5 ways to give the gift of friendship:
Make it a point every time you come to church in December and January to seek out someone you don't know and introduce yourself. Let them know they are seen.
Learn the name of someone new and go on a mission to find them the following week to reconnect.
Introduce a friend to someone else you know.
Invite someone to coffee or lunch - maybe just one person, maybe their whole family. It's so easy to connect over a meal.
If you see someone new, engage with them and see if you can help them find their way or answer questions they might have about our church.
It's all about our approach and our focus - all we need to do is "turn on our radar" as we get out of the car to come into church thinking, "Who might I meet today, how might I make them feel welcome and how can I give someone the gift of friendship during this season?"