Ways to Make New Coverts Feel Special
W. James Cowell
Countless ways exist for congregations to help newcomers feel special. This chapter is devoted to describing a dozen proven ways to enhance that special feeling.
1. Anniversary letter or follow-up visit from the pastor. One of the simplest ways to make people feel special is for the pastor to write them a brief personal note on the anniversary of their joining the congregation. If the new member has become active, then the letter can thank the person for his or her contribution of time, talent, and money. If there have been special joys or concerns in the person’s life, those can be remembered with appropriate comments. Such a letter can be written by the pastor of any size church.
A follow-up visit by the pastor three to six months after a new member has joined is another excellent way to provide special care for persons who may still be making adjustments to a new community and a new church home. Presenting the new member with a quality paperback spiritual book, such as a devotional classic, at the time of the home visit could add significance to the occasion. Some other symbolic gift, such as a plant suggesting spiritual growth, may be given to the new member. One pastor has the guideline “3 x 3 x 3” three phone calls, three notes, and three personal visits to members each day. Such a guideline will enhance the congregation’s incorporation efforts.
2. New member breakfast or luncheon. Some churches have monthly or quarterly breakfasts or luncheons as part of the reception of new members. Sometimes meal functions are held before persons join the church as part of the overall evangelistic process of reaching new persons. New members, prospective members, staff, and key lay leaders attend for a time of fellowship around a catered meal with, perhaps, a brief explanation of a special program emphasis of the congregation.
Careful attention should be given to the seating during breakfasts and luncheons. To enhance fellowship, tables should be arranged to accommodate eight to ten persons, rather than lined up in long rows. At some point during the meal, introductions of persons at all tables to the total group should be accomplished.
An ideal time to have a new member breakfast or luncheon is on the Sunday that a membership orientation class is received into the church. If a quarterly meal is held and new members have joined since the last meal, let them join the current class of new members for the special celebration.
3. An annual new member banquet. A banquet can be a festive occasion special speaker, and a chance to reflect on one’s spiritual journey. At an appropriate time during the meal, the new members can be asked to fill out a questionnaire requesting information about their feelings and perceptions concerning their membership in the congregation. The New Member Banquet Survey on the following page is an example of this type of questionnaire.
In addition to filling out the questionnaire, new members could also be asked, “Who do you know who needs the ministry of our church?” New members are excellent sources for names and addresses of other prospective members. If a new person’s (or family’s) experience in the congregation has been positive, he/she will usually be willing to refer unchurched friends to the congregation and will often agree to contact them personally.
4. Recognition of special days and honors. Birthdays, anniversaries, job promotions, birth of a child, and other special days in a person’s or family’s life provide opportunities for meaningful ministry. A birthday or anniversary card can make new members feel special; especially if that card is not simply a form card, but a card that comes with a personal note or is signed by a number of persons in the choir, a Sunday school lass, or other group in which the newcomer is a participant.
Recognizing individual accomplishments is another way of making persons feel special in any size congregation. For instance, congratulating students on scholarships or sports achievements helps solidify youth involvement in a congregation. Some congregations do an exceptional job of recognizing all kinds of honors or achievements in their newsletter or weekly bulletin under a “Did you know?” heading. For example, “Did you know Sally won the sixth grade spelling bee?” or “Did you know Jack was promoted to vice-president of his company?”, etc.
There are also opportunities for ministry in times of sorrow. A special visit to the home of a person on the anniversary of the death of a spouse or child is a time to offer pastoral care. Often persons unite with a congregation at a time of crisis in their lives. Recognizing the anniversary of a crisis can assist the incorporation process and can help .m individual face the future. Letters or cards from church members on the anniversary of a sad occasion can go a long way in making people feel cared for.
5. Involve new members in outreach. Newcomers to a community often know more unchurched persons than do long-time members of a congregation. The longer persons are members of a particular congregation the more likely it is that their friends are also members. Thus, new members are prime candidates for the evangelism committee if they have relational skills. Every new member should be given the chance to answer the question, “Who could you invite to also become a part of this church?”
New members have enthusiasm and a positive attitude about the church. Otherwise, they would not have joined! That enthusiasm is contagious when shared with other people at work or in the neighborhood.
The “Greeter” ministry is another means of involving new members. Their smiles and enthusiasm are contagious, even if they lack knowledge of the congregation and its membership. The greeter function is usually filled by persons who have been members for several years; however, the ideal situation may well be to match up long-time members and new members as greeter teams.
6. Use systematic recordkeeping as a way of caring. Maxine Marshall, in an article concerning the Sunday school, “Record Keeping as a Way of Caring,” states:
Record keeping is important. We all like to count for something; and to count for something we .need to be counted. Every class and group needs to develop the habit of counting those present. The very act of being counted stimulates the desire to be present and to get others to come, too.
Keeping accurate records lets us . . .
� Know when persons were enrolled
� Recognize visitors and new members
� Identify absent members who could be in need Determine teacher/pupil ratios, class size, and use of space
� Know the number of regular teachers and workers
� Have information about birthdays, anniversaries, hobbies, etc:,
� Know how many curriculum resources to order
� Look at the total membership of the Sunday school
� Know what average attendance is in each class and the total Sunday school
� Define potential for Confirmation classes
� Assess the total ministry of the Sunday school
� Provide caregiving
� Let teachers get to know students on a one-to-one basis
She suggests, further, that every class or learning group needs “care chairperson.” This person:
� Helps keep up with people
� Can give information about what was done in session, and plans for next session to absentees
� Contacts absentees or arranges for someone else to
� Helps new people get into a class or group. Offers a ride, indicates where room is, takes newcomers on Sunday morning
� Opens up caregiving opportunities to those neglected by society and opens door to starting new groups to meet particular needs of those persons
� Expands and encourages contacts of persons through family, business, social, school, and professional groups
� Provides information to further learn about the community and its demographics
There can be a meeting of all persons concerned to help them understand the importance of recordkeeping so that it becomes everyone’s task.
An excellent resource that underscores the importance of systematic caregiving is A Ministry of Caring: Leader’s Guide and Participant’s Workbook (available from Discipleship Resources) by Duane A. Ewers. This ten session skill training course helps participants become more sensitive to caring opportunities, be more intentional as caregivers, care more effectively, and recognize their own need to give and receive care and support.
Of course, recordkeeping is important not only in Sunday school small groups, but in the congregation as a whole. Each choir, youth gathering and men’s or women’s group should keep accurate records of participation to adequately follow up absentees. It is unfortunate that in many congregations the only adequate recordkeeping happens at the time names are compiled to be removed from the church roll.
Churches that keep accurate records of worship attendance can call persons who have missed three consecutive Sundays and visit persons who have missed five or more consecutive Sundays. While the details for follow-up of absentees may vary, the purpose is the same to let individuals know they have been missed and to encourage their renewed participation at worship and other activities. It is generally agreed that a congregation has ninety days to reclaim a person who is slipping into an inactive posture. An attendance pad similar to the one on the following page is used by many congregations to track worship attendance. Pads are passed during the worship service at a time designated as the “ritual of friendship.” Sets of pads may be ordered from Discipleship Resources.26
7. Interview new members. Questions asked of new members may be similar to the questionnaire used at a new member banquet. New member interviews, however, can take place much sooner than at an annual banquet. Someone on the evangelism or membership task force may conduct the interviews. Interview questions might include:
� How the new member felt about the membership orientation sessions
� How the new member is feeling at present about his/her place in the life of the congregation
� Where the congregation or individuals have not lived up to expectations
� Ideas the new person has that might improve a current program or ministry
� How the new member might be part of the answer to any gaps in ministry
� Things the new member celebrates about the congregation
8. Recognition of service within the church and in the community. An usher’s banquet, Christian Education Sunday to recognize all teachers in the church school, or a choir celebration to hand out awards for 80 percent attendance during the year are all examples of ways congregations can recognize special groups of volunteers. New members should be among persons recognized in various capacities.
Two examples of certificates which can be given to recognize service within the church are shown on pages 55 and 56. The evangelism certificate can be awarded yearly, while the “Rock of the Month” award relates to choir members who had perfect attendance at rehearsals and worship services for a month. One church uses the “Rock of the Month” award as well as a Petra (rock) coffee mug to supplement the monthly awards.
It is also important to recognize the volunteer efforts of members who do community service. Honoring the Scout leader of a troop sponsored by a local church can simultaneously lift a person’s morale and emphasize Scouting. Many worthwhile efforts deserve to be praised and recognized by a congregation: for example, participating in Habitat for Humanity, serving meals at the ecumenical soup kitchen, volunteering time for the American Cancer Society or other charity, working as a volunteer at a local hospital, serving on the city council or holding an office in professional and business organizations.
It must be stressed that it is important to recognize persons with “hands-on” or nonverbal skills as well as persons with verbal skills. Members of a congregation who perform carpentry work, wiring, or other construction efforts need to be honored as well as Sunday school teachers. Unfortunately, it is easy to overlook a person who has faithfully cared for children in the nursery for five years, while
praising the lay speaker who has a gift for words and frequently appears before the entire congregation!
9. Include new members in special fellowship activities. Smaller membership congregations that specialize in potluck dinners could invite new members to come to the meal without bringing a dish. One family could prepare enough food for the new member and provide transportation to the dinner. Everyone is introduced to the new member who goes to the head of the food line as “guest of the evening.”
Many congregations host seasonal parties, such as a family-oriented Halloween party, which serves the dual purposes of fellowship and alternative to trick or treat for children. Congregations of all sizes find Halloween a time to include new persons in fun and fellowship even before those persons attend a worship service. Giving prizes for the best costume or the best decorated pumpkin adds excitement and humor to the evening.
A Christmas party perhaps a catered meal or formal dinner setting with background Christmas music is another way congregations have responded to a special season. A perennial favorite in many congregations is a mother-daughter banquet which is held around Mother’s Day or a father-son banquet held near Father’s Day. New members or prospective members are invited and urged to participate in all such festive occasions.
Round-robin dinners or “dinners for eight” are another way to incorporate new persons. In a round-robin dinner arrangement, couples or singles sign up to host meals in their homes on a rotating basis. A couple or single is host for the meal only once a quarter. Usually six to eight persons make up each dinner group. At the end of each quarter, persons are given the opportunity to sign up again and are assigned to a different group of six to eight persons. After several months, a new member or family can come to know a dozen families in the church very well.
A lunch meeting at a different restaurant each month or a regularly scheduled breakfast can also assist in the incorporation of new members. Wholesome Christian fellowship is a necessity in today’s society.
10. Have a meaningful reception at the altar for new members. Another way to make uniting with the church special is to ask each new member to sign the official membership book of the church. A member of the evangelism or outreach committee can be responsible for bringing the membership book to the altar on Sundays when people unite with the congregation.
Another way to make uniting with the church a special occasion is for the pastor to introduce each new member to the congregation, mentioning where he/she works, a significant hobby, or other pertinent facts about each individual. The pastor may want to give newcomers a chance to express what joining the church means to them and what factors led them to decide to unite with this particular congregation.
Still another way to make uniting with the church a meaningful experience is to present the new member with a certificate of baptism and/or church membership signed by the pastor. A devotional book or other symbolic gift may be given to the new member at the altar rather than a home visit. After the worship service, a photograph can be taken of each new member and placed on a new member bulletin board.
11. Introduce each new member to the congregation through a new member bulletin board or newsletter article. Introducing a new member in a worship service is important, but that introduction should be followed by other concerted incorporation efforts. Pictures of new Members can be posted on a bulletin board in the narthex of the church building to let other members become familiar with the newest additions to the community of faith.
If a new member bulletin board is used, it should be kept current. Nothing is worse than seeing a new member board where no new member pictures have been added for several months. This conveys to visitors that either there have been no recent new members or no one has cared enough to keep the bulletin board current. Visitors are likely to question why the congregation is not receiving new members. Newcomers whose pictures do not appear will feel forgotten rather than special!
Featuring new members in the church newsletter is an excellent way to share something of their background, hobbies, and vocations. This is also an excellent way to spread the word to visitors and prospects that new people are joining the congregation. Some congregations have duplicating equipment that allows the newsletter to feature pictures of new members along with their write-ups.
12. Hold a new member coffee in the pastor’s home, church lounge, or other setting. If six or more new members join a congregation during the year, consider holding a new member coffee at the parsonage, in the church lounge or fellowship area, or in a lay leader’s home. In a medium to large membership church, coffee fellowships may be held quarterly or monthly. One or two lay leaders, in addition to the pastor (and spouse, if married), will enhance the gatherings.
The agenda for a coffee fellowship might include:
� A fellowship circle where each person gives his/her name and tells something about himself/herself
� An account from the pastor concerning her/his ministry, especially her/his hopes and dreams regarding the present assignment
� A report of new member interests that can be shared with relevant church committees
� Informal conversations that encourage questions about the congregation and its ministry
� A symbolic gift to each new person or family, such as the miniature garbage can mentioned earlier on page 6
� A fellowship circle with all persons joining hands for prayer and sending forth to dose the evening
Careful note-taking at a coffee fellowship can provide information to supplement the data turned in by new members on a time and talent sheet. Information gleaned during informal conversations has sometimes been the glue cementing a new member to a congregation,
Every congregation should be a place “where everyone knows my name.” Paul Tournier, in The Naming of Persons, states:
When I say that I am a person I am expressing two things that, seem to be contradictory, but in fact are complementary: one that I am an original human being, not to be confused with any other; a unique being, always himself despite his disconcerting diversity, as Rousseau so aptly says. On the other hand I am stating that I am not an isolated individual, complete in myself, but that I exist only in virtue of my relationship with others, with the world of which I am a part. The word “person” thus involves two movements, of separation and of union.
What separates and distinguishes me from other people is the fact that I am called by my name; but what unites me with them is the very fact that they call me. . . . When I call someone by his Christian name I am expressing the intimacy that exists between us. Above all I am making him feel that I am addressing his person and not his function or his social personage. . . . The use of the Christian name marks a change in the relationship, the personalization of the relationship.27
Every person wants to feel important and every congregation should be creative in projecting and planning ways to make people feel special. We all want others to know our name and affirm our unique identity,
The above article, “Ways to Make People Feel Special,” is written by W. James Cowell. The article was excerpted from Cowell’s book Incorporating New Members: Bonds of Believing, Belonging, and Becoming.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.