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.
When the gathering music is Billy Joel's She's Always a Woman to Me, you just know the worship will be anything but ordinary.
But out of the ordinary is how it has to be, says Barbara Zielinski, mission developer of Extended Grace, a faith community along Lake Michigan's east shore.
"We're the place for people who are on the edge," she says. "The church needs to create places for people who feel nobody wants them. Christ always sat with the outsider. That's where we're called to be." These 30 worshipers are here to find and experience Extended Grace, and by all accounts they do.
Every Sunday at about 5 p.m. they saunter into this Grand Haven, Mich., building behind a day care and Pizza Hut. After helping themselves to coffee, tea or Hawaiian Punch, the men, women and children settle into donated couches or sit behind tables. Clad in jeans and sweatshirts, they spend the next three hours participating in worship orchestrated by Zielinski and eat a meal prepared by her husband, Sigmond. Most will stay to discuss the evening's theme led by Zielinski or a guest.
But before they do, there's a check-in time, giving a taste of the joys and struggles of these worshipers. Unemployed job seekers give updates, two birthdays are celebrated and a woman announces her enrollment in a Dale Carnegie course (applause). A visitor attending with friends says, among other things, her heat has been turned off. She's partly here to warm up. "Mary" is here every week, driving 30 miles from Grand Rapids. "I had never attended church very much. I always felt if they knew the real me I wouldn't be welcome," she says.
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© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers