Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

STUFF 2013 welcoming

Given my current touring schedule, it will be some time before I am in a pulpit again.  Thus, it seems a good opportunity to reprint a few pieces I've written for various publications over the past few years.  
The theme for the Spring 2010 Issue of Connect Journal was "Welcoming," and my regular column is called "A View from Elsewhere."
Herewith my submission, with apologies for violations of contractual contracts etc . . .

A View from Elsewhere:  Welcoming

So, my little parish here in Ohio is what the experts call “family size.”  I’ll spare you all the details of what that means, except to say that it’s pretty much what it sounds like.  Less like a company, and more like a family.  The goal of every family-size parish is to grow into what is called pastoral size.  The goal of every pastoral-size parish is to grow into program size.  The goal of every program-size parish is to grow into corporate size.  And the goal of every corporate-size parish is to move into the Astrodome.  This concludes George’s church-growth seminar.  I hope you can apply the tools you’ve learned today to help your church grow.  But back to my parish . . .

So in the family-size parish, the “need” to grow is paramount.  It’s on everyone’s mind, all the time, for obvious reasons.  More people mean more resources (unless the people you’re attracting have limited resources).  More people mean more help with stuff (unless the people you already have in the congregation insist that they’re the only ones who know how to do anything right).  More people mean you could have a choir (if anyone could sing), and a youth group (if anyone had kids), and all sorts of new ideas and energy (if people aren’t too burned out from the economic challenges they face).  As you can see, new members can mean all sorts of great things for the parish.  So it is crucial that we get out there and get some.

And there’s the rub.  Because when you’re a small congregation, worshipping in the fellowship hall of the local dying Disciples of Christ church, nobody knows you’re there.  Nobody knows you even exist.  How could they possibly know to stop in and help you grow?

Well, the answer to that question could take up a whole issue of this journal along with several others.  And since my congregation has no money, there’s no chance of getting the vestry to approve some kind of multi-journal study of our challenges.  There’s really no practical way to reach out and let the community know we are here.  So the parishioners take it upon themselves to invite their friends.  People much like themselves, with limited resources, and struggling amid the economic downturn.  And these friends do show up.  They walk in the door with their inviters and, after crossing the threshold, they are attacked!  In a friendly way, of course, but attacked nonetheless. 

The desperation for new members is palpable in our people’s eyes.  During the sharing of the peace (which looks more like the end of a baseball game than it does sharing anything peaceful), these hapless visitors are glommed onto, chatted up, and hand shook until I can see them adopting a far-away look in their eyes.  And I can imagine what’s going through their minds . . . “Thank God I drove, because there is no way I am staying for coffee hour!”

In short, being overly welcoming is not welcoming.  Refusing to give the visitor some space is not hospitable.  In my parish, the well-meaning folks are just as apt to drive someone away as they are to gain a new member.  And that’s a hard truth to try to explain to them.  My congregants see themselves as creating a welcoming environment.  And to the already initiated, they do.  But for a person who walks in off the street, I think we would serve them better by giving them some time and some space.  Let them see how we love one another, and they might want to be loved in that way.  If we meet them at the door with so much attention that it scares me just to witness it, the chances are good that they’ll be heading for the non-denominational church next door, where they can sit in the dark, and observe the service from the safety of a padded theater seat.

George Baum is exactly one half of the band, Lost And Found (, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Ohio, the father of two, and the husband of one.

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