On the front end of outreach is connecting with visitors. A call for reader responses to The Lutheran indicated these practices:
• Providing an inviting and hospitable environment in which different kinds of people feel welcome.
• Providing a safe, loving and comfortable nursery where children feel important and cherished.
• Welcoming visitors with genuine care and compassion, not just with a one-time polite greeting. Making visitors feel like their presence really makes a difference.
• Intentionally following up with visitors through phone calls and other techniques, like delivering home-baked goods to a visitor's home.
• Providing ministries that allow people of all ages to grow spiritually and use their gifts fully in the life of the church.
• Getting new members connected early with other people and involved in ministry, such as small groups.
On a snowy day this winter I met with a roomful
of congregational leaders in the Upper Peninsula, a slice of northern
Michigan sandwiched between Lakes Michigan and Superior. I asked them
to list those things that characterize a healthy, vital congregation.
"They'd all be willing to stand in the same ice shack together," one blurted out.
The list grew from there.
"Town politics and family systems don't dominate. There is an intergenerational spirit. People take the initiative." Now they were getting warmed up.
"There's no grapevine," somebody said. "There's healthy communication."
The group kept adding to the list. "People are willing to try new things. They can disagree maturely. They know the power of prayer and use it. They give generously. They know how to love. There is a permission-giving culture. People know their gifts and are encouraged to use them."
Then they made this leap: "There is a vision in the congregation beyond survival." And that vision includes those who are not yet a part of it.
"A healthy congregation," the group agreed, "has a mission that includes reaching out to others. It is able and willing to welcome those who are different." In other words, a healthy congregation doesn't put itself first.
One final word came from the group that day: "A healthy, vital congregation doesn't smell old."
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© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers