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Are newcomers being served?

07 January 2010

Peter McGeary on the welcome business


Everybody Welcome: The course where everybody helps grow their church
Bob Jackson and George Fisher
Church House Publishing
Leaders’ Manual £14.99 (£13.50)
Members’ Manual £3.99 (£3.60)
DVD £24.99 (£22.50)

I suppose that what is true for a menswear shop is even truer for a church: those of us who spend a good deal of time in churches tend to forget how odd or even threaten­ing they can be to others. Everybody Welcome is a four-part course aimed at getting a church congregation to look at itself and its environment with fresh eyes. In effect, this is a kind of self-appraisal for the sake of others who do not darken our doors.

We are invited to look at how others see us, and also through what means others see us (funerals, pers­onal contact, jumble sales, and so on). What sort of impression do they give of the church as a body of faithful Christians?

Whether we like it or not, we have buildings and land. What do they communicate to the outside observer? Is the grass in the churchyard neat? Is the notice board up to date? If not, why not? Does the building communicate a living church to the passer-by or not?

We then have to consider what happens should a stranger walk through the door of our church to come to worship. What is the initial welcome like? Does that differ from place to place, and, if so, how and why? How many books and bits of paper do we hand out? And what happens afterwards?

And, lastly, how do we nurture those who are new? How involved do we get them, and how quickly? How do we appear interested in them with being overwhelming?

The Members’ Manual sets out these and other questions, and is intended for anyone. The Leaders’ Manual fleshes out the material, and provides a structure for discussion groups and further reflection (a DVD accompanies this). It also contains a fifth session, which is aimed at indentifying and beginning to train a welcoming team, should that be seen as the next step forward. It would make a good Lent course, but is usable at any time.

A lot of Everybody Welcome asks fairly obvious and basic questions, and that is its strength: so much of what we call “mission” is remem-ber­ing to ask the basic questions again and again, and reminding ourselves that the tools God uses most for mission are human beings. Us.

The Revd Peter McGeary is Vicar of St Mary’s, Cable Street, London, and a Priest-Vicar of Westminster Abbey.

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