Enabling our churches to be communities of welcome and hospitality is central to their mission. We are to welcome others as part of our response to how God in Christ welcomes us.
Bob Jackson, recently retired as the Archdeacon of Walsall and a specialist in church growth, argues that cultivating effective welcome is one of the most significant and important things our churches can do to enable fruitful growth. He writes:
It is still Jesus’ own job to draw all people to himself (Matthew 16.18) and he is still doing his job. The main problem and opportunity for the growth of the Church today is how well we who are already in the Church welcome the people whom God is sending us to join the Church. It is as surprisingly basic and simple as that.
To help churches reflect on and develop the welcome they offer Bob Jackson and George Fisher have produced an excellent new course: Everybody Welcome (Church House Publishing, 2009).
In five sessions it leads participants through a review of the welcome their church offers and provides useful ideas and insights on how this can be enabled to flourish. The course is designed to:
*help every individual in your church to have a welcoming approach to newcomers
*encourage you to see your worship, activities and building from a fresh perspective
*provide an opportunity to identify priorities for decision and practical change
*enable you to set up a specialist welcome team, who will help people move from initial contact with the church through to becoming contributing members.
Everybody Welcome is published by Church House Publishing (ISBN 978 0 7151 4190 8), Tel: 020 7898 1451 or visit www.chpublishing.co.uk
Tourism and Welcome
Our church buildings provide us with many opportunities to share our faith with our visitors.
It is estimated that over 80% of the population visit a church for some reason each year. Of these, over 20% are simply seeking a quiet place in which to pause, reflect or prayer.
Many of our visitors come because they are attracted by the spiritual significance of our buildings.
Every church building should be able to convey three key messages to visitors:
This church is a welcoming place
…the way that the church is kept open, maintained and shared with others reflects true Christian hospitality in which all are welcomed in a spirit of generosity and service as part of our response to God’s welcome to us.
This church is a sacred place…
…the church and its grounds provide a place of encounter with God.
Here prayer and worship are offered and shared. This is ‘holy ground’ that the visitor is invited to explore and experience for themselves.
This church is a life-giving place…
…this is where a community of Christ’s disciples meets to grow in a living relationship with God that transforms and sustains their lives and inspires their life in the world.
In communicating these three messages the aim should be to help the visitor make connections between their own experiences of life and of God and the Gospel message.
To aid reflection on how the diocesan Open to all ‘checklist’ has been developed as a guide to good practice. It is intended to help churches reflect on what they currently offer to their visitors, enabling them to celebrate and build on their own good practice and to identify and address gaps or weaknesses.
This list of good practice is not exhaustive, nor will all its suggestions be appropriate for every church. Let it stimulate your thinking and aid your discussion.
The other resources downloadable on this page are particularly concerned with using our buildings as an opportunity to share our faith. Please feel free to adapt them to your own situation.
An excellent book is Open For You by Paul Bond, published by Canterbury Press (ISBN 1 85311 714 5)
Websites Worth Exploring
www.rejesus.co.uk (designed for non-church people wanting to explore Christianity)
www.deo-gloria.co.uk (includes a range of outreach material)
www.churchestourismassociation.info (for further advice on being a welcoming church)
www.achurchnearyou.com (a useful website to have on visitor literature – the site does what it says in its name, enabling people to find their local church)
www.timtiley.com (website for the popular supplier of prayer cards, greeting cards and other material for visitors and church members alike)
www.ghct.org.uk(Gloucestershire Historic Churches Trust website for information about the county’s churches)