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Welcoming tips for Easter and beyond

March 11, 2008

SUMMARY: Here's how to make Easter visitors comfortable and-eventually-involved in your congregation.

Look around you on Easter Sunday.  You'll probably see people you haven't seen since Christmas as well as some new faces. A few simple steps can put visitors and inactive members at ease and make them feel at home in your congregation.

Every guest, including those who come at our invitation, actually is responding to an urge God has placed inside his or her heart. That urge will not be satisfied with one or two worship experiences. Newcomers decide whether or not to return within the first 10 minutes of involvement with your church. Their initial participation is a beginning, so follow up to involve them in your faith community.

Because you know you'll entertain guests during Easter, now is a perfect time to plan to include guest-friendly elements in the service. Here are some suggestions to prepare your congregation to welcome others:

  • If time permits, try a "mystery guest" audit to find areas that could be improved.
  • Ensure items in the bulletin use language easily understood by someone unfamiliar with church terms (no "insider" language). Explain and identify nearly everything.
  • Create a bulletin insert highlighting your church's regular programs and ministries. This may attract the attention of someone who wants to give his or her gifts and talents, as well as receive support and acceptance.
  • Suggest members and attendees use the inserts when issuing invitations to friends, relatives, acquaintances and neighbors.
  • Make a special effort to welcome everyone-members and guests alike. Allow extra time for the "passing of the peace" so people can greet everyone around them without feeling rushed.

The actual Easter season begins Easter morning: It lasts 50 days. Prepare this Easter for guests, but make it your goal to use the 50 days that follow to get to know your guests and involve them in your church community.  Here are some ideas:

  • Contact people who attend on Easter Sunday. With Easter guests, send an informational letter about the church or make phone calls to answer questions. Follow up within 48 hours of the visit.
  • Offer a "newcomer lunch" or a similar gathering a week or two after Easter. Mention the lunch during "joys and concerns" and in the Easter bulletin. Send a reminder in follow-up letters to guests.
  • Schedule a membership-exploration class to begin a few weeks after Easter. Tell people they have no obligation to join the church, but help them understand the ministries and study opportunities available. Involve long-term members to support and encourage newcomers as they seek deeper connections with your church.
  • In early April, offer a serving opportunity, such as a spring neighborhood cleanup or a Habitat for Humanity build. Invite newcomers to participate in the activity as a short-term service project and a way to meet others in the church.
  • Begin a new Sunday school class or Bible study designed to last about seven weeks in April and May. Since United Methodism's General Conference is this April 23-May 2, use it as a springboard to introduce the denomination. Explore basic Christian beliefs or another spiritual topic. Time the course to end before people begin their summer vacations.