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July 14, 2016, 9:35 AM

Welcome and Grow

“Now as [Jesus and his disciples] went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.” –Luke 10:38  (From the Gospel reading for July 17, 2016)

I was recently reading a couple of articles about church growth, and I found myself nodding my head in agreement with much of what they were saying.  I know too that growth may seem counter-intuitive to think about this during the summer months, but the truth is a lot of transitions happen during the summer months as people move for new jobs before school starts in the fall.  In addition, many people travel during the summer months and by extension become visitors in worship, so I thought I would share some scriptural foundations followed by some thoughts and suggestions about ways in which we can welcome others and grow together in faith.

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  -Romans 15:7

First, expect visitors and be intentionally welcoming of them.  Say “hello” to others and make sure they know where they are going.  By the time visitors make it into the sanctuary, my hope is that they have received three warm welcomes—one from the greeters as they walk in, and two from other members of the congregation.  It may not seem like a great distance, but that 30 (or so) feet from the entrance to the sanctuary can seem pretty daunting if you haven’t been in a while, and all you get are stares instead of friendly faces, smiles and sincere greetings.  After worship, if there is someone you don’t know, introduce yourself and invite them to join you at your table for refreshments.  And the next time you see them, go up to them and welcome them (even if you don’t remember their name—re-introduce yourself and say something like, ‘I’m sorry, could you remind me of your name again.”)  

“Again he sent other slaves, saying, 'Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.'”  –Matthew 22:4

Second, be invitational.  The days are gone when you can assume everyone goes to church, so don’t be afraid to invite others to come to Holy Spirit.  This goes for not only to people outside the church but also to members of the church you haven’t seen in a while.  It may not even be for worship—consider inviting someone for an event like our Food Distribution, or Vacation Bible School (August 1-5 starting at 6:00 pm), or the Big Band Dance (July 23 from 8:00-11:00 pm) or Bible Study (Wednesdays at 6:45) or Young at Heart, or a Cultural Awareness workshop, even a Thrivent Class (coming this fall)… I hope you get the idea that there is a lot that goes in our community of faith, and even if the invitation isn’t for worship, it might either become an invitation to worship with us, or a reminder to the invitee to attend his/her own congregation.  And if you want to take some object to make the invitation easier, we can get you a “Welcome Bag” to bring along.

“What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” -1 Corinthians 14:26

Third, make worship an engaging experience.  Worship is more than just good music, or an interesting sermon, or receiving Holy Communion.  We can all contribute to making our worship an engaging experience in the way we share the peace, offer prayers and engage in responses.  We include punctuation in the responses for a reason—so when you see, “Thanks be to God!” at the end of the service, it’s because that response is intended to express thanksgiving and gratitude to God for what we are called to do in the world.  And if our verbal response is lack-luster, then how do you think others will perceive our physical response to what we have heard and received in worship?  

Studies show that most visitors (at least subconsciously) decide if they’re going to come back within the first few minutes of being at a church. This means parking, greeting and building condition matter.  But chief among the reasons why people come back is worship—and especially their experience of other people in worship.  So go ahead, underline some words or phrases that catch your eye in the bulletin, offer earnest and heart-felt responses instead of just reading words off the page of a bulletin, get out of your pew (if you are physically able) and greet others during the peace—knowing that we are not just saying “hi” but rather offering the peace that Christ gives to us, and finally, don’t be afraid to sing out—even if you don’t think your voice is that of the next Frank Sinatra.

“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”  –James 5:16

Finally, be prayerful.  Pray for others in the church, and don’t be afraid to tell them because Jesus calls the church community to care for one another.  Sometimes we fail to do that, but (hopefully) what sets us apart from other communities is our willingness to ask for and receive sincere forgiveness when we do—simply put, to engage in Christ-like living.  It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from an American journalist, Abigail Van Buren, “The Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”  So don’t be afraid to take home a devotional… or pull out the Small Catechism from your confirmation days (you can even download a free copy on your phone now from Augsburg Fortress)… or sign up to be a part of the prayer team… or all of the above!  Pray for one another, confess your sins at the beginning of worship, ask for and grant forgiveness.  Because these actions are powerful and effective for stirring the faith within each of us.

I could go on, but I pray these four suggestions help us as a community better welcome others into the life of Holy Spirit Lutheran and grow in faith.    

-Pr. Nathan

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