I was visiting a mainline church recently that had been experiencing ongoing and significant decline. The church wasn’t exactly a small church, but it wasn’t huge either. Over 200 people attended worship there every week. The odd thing was that, although this church was in decline in terms of attendance and participation, it was taking in new members fairly regularly.

It just so happened that a young family joined the church at the end of the service (yes, they walked down the aisle, so it’s pretty clear this young family had some church experience). Immediately following the service they were welcomed into the church and the requisite line of church leaders and well wishers queued up in the aisle to go to the front of the church to shake their hands, offer words of welcome, etc.

The pastor wandered over to where I was sitting and watching the welcome and, knowing what was likely to happen next, I invited him to sit down with me and watch.

The line dwindled and the last folks made their way to the new family, shaking their hands and, I suppose, welcoming them into the church. And then they, like all the rest of the 25–30 people who had been so welcoming, walked away.

The new family stood in the aisle and looked at each other. It was one of those awkward moments while they tried to figure out what they were supposed to do next. The worship center was nearly empty by that point, though there were clumps of people chatting here and there, but the new members were clearly not invited into those conversations. I pointed out their discomfort to the pastor as we watched them pick up their things and walked a bit unsteadily to the door.

Here’s what should have happened.

Hosts Adopt New Members

Once the new family joined, a church host (or an elder, deacon, shepherd, etc.) should have leapt to their feet and stood with the couple during the “welcoming” ceremony. They would then introduce the new members to each well-wisher: “Bob, this is Jack and Jill and their daughter Mary. Bob leads the bicycling ministry here.”

Build the First Connection Bridges

When the welcome line had dwindled, the host could have done one of several things.

  • Offer to give them a tour of the campus;
  • Inquire if they had any questions;
  • Have a real conversation and get to know the new members better;
  • Invite them to lunch (the church should pay for this);
  • AT LEAST walk them out of the worship center and to their car, chatting all the way.

Although this church has taken in many members this year, it turns out that many of them aren’t around any more.

Gotta wonder why…

Question: What do you do to ensure that new members feel truly welcomed into your church? Share your ideas and thoughts in the Comments section below.