by Elizabeth L. Windsor
The return of the regular September-June program year brings with it new opportunities for formation and relationships. As Christian Educators, we are especially on the look-out for new families those first Sundays of the program year and we want to keep track of them and invite them to get to know us better. But HOW exactly do we do that?
I have found a four-part series before worship/education or in the coffee/education time following worship to be an excellent way of welcoming newcomers and help them get to know us and feel comfortable with us. I structure the sessions as follows:
Session I: How We Worship
I recommend that the Rector or Senior pastor and the Church Musician lead this session. The focus of this session is to help folks feel comfortable navigating the worship service so that they can participate. Many of the folks who come to us are not from our denomination – some of them have little or no experience of Christian worship. Explain the books in the pew, walk through the bulletin or worship leaflet and explain the theological words used there. Let your Church Musician end the session by teaching everyone the Doxology or other piece of music used regularly in worship.
Session II: How We Belong
This session is best led by a member of the clergy or a well-trained layperson in the congregation. A brief discussion of your denomination’s beliefs about Baptism and Communion is helpful to folks who may come from another tradition or who are unchurched. The practicalities and mechanics of receiving Communion, as well as how to arrange for Baptism, Reception, Confirmation and Membership should also be shared at this session.
Session III: How We Organize Our Life Together
This session should be led by one of your wardens or your Chair of Church Council and contains a brief (and I mean “brief”) overview of your polity. How are decisions made in the life of the congregation? Who has responsibility for worship, etc? Stewardship and pledging should be mentioned at this session. This is also a good place to introduce the person who organizes meals for ill parishioners, let folks know how to put someone on the prayer list, how to get flowers on the altar, etc.
Session IV: How We Grow in Christ Together
Christian Education, Formation and Service are the foci of this session and should be introduced by the staff person responsible for the Christian Education program. Begin with the “whys” of lifelong formation and discuss your Safe Church/Sanctuary policy. Take a tour of the building, including the classrooms and the library. This is a good time to get Church School Registration forms into parental hands. If you have a Youth Group leader, make sure he/she takes a few minutes to talk about the youth program. Invite the Chair of your Outreach or Mission Committee to talk about the opportunities for service and outreach in your community of faith.
This is the general outline I follow, but the formula can certainly be tailored to your congregation’s practices and traditions. The goal is to make it easy for newcomers to participate in worship, education and service, and to get to know some of the key staff members and lay leaders while at the same time building relationships with each other.
How do you help newcomers make connections?
Dr. Elizabeth L. Windsor is the Director of Christian Education at Sudbury United Methodist Church in Sudbury, Massachusetts. She is an accredited Godly Play storyteller. Christian formation throughout the life cycle is both her profession and her passion.