I am privileged to serve as the leader of a church that regularly has new people joining us, whether they be new to Worcester or deciding to move from another church. Prior to that I have been in similar churches and so over the years I’ve observed time and again what needs to happen if people are to connect to a church and find a place to belong and thrive in.
Church is the plural of disciple. It’s a community of Jesus-followers who choose to pursue the most beautiful, bold and big version of the Kingdom of God life that they possibly can. Jesus said that we are not only disciples, but brothers and sisters. That makes us family. Church is therefore better understood as a family. And it’s a family with an assignment: to join in with God in the renewing of all things. We’re a family on mission.
This is important, because connecting to a church is not just about connecting to a Sunday gathering, or a programme, or finding ourselves on the database with a few jobs to make us feel needy. Connection into a church is a profoundly relational process that takes time and intentionality on the part of the new person and the receiving community.
I know it’s happened well for someone when they tell me, and there is evidence, that their life has become intertwined with that of others through both intentional community (we call them “small groups”) and service.
People join and stay in a church because of relationship. And they leave if it doesn’t happen. I will say more in a future post about what churches can do to be the kind of community/family that make it easy for people to connect and belong (it’s more than just a nice, friendly face greeting you at the entrance on a Sunday morning!
Here are seven things I’ve observed time and again that people who get really well connected all do:
(1) They commit to regularly gathering with the wider family on a Sunday – there is something about making gathering with the wider family a weekly commitment wherever possible that means people quickly find themselves feeling part of the “whole church” even though it can seem too big for intimate friendship (beyond 50-60 people it is). They get a sense of who the wider church is, what makes it tick, who the leaders are, the scope of it’s vision and the nature of it’s values. They also get to track the teaching offered and tune in to the journey that the community is on and where it’s at on that journey.
I spoke recently to a girl who is new to our church who knew this to be key and so she made sure she could make four Sundays in a row. By the end of that run she had joined a small group, started serving and found friends to do life with.
(2) They commit to getting to know people beyond a Sunday – this is harder for some than others, but however it’s done, people who do this more quickly and more deeply get rooted in the church. It might be that they turn up to smaller mid-week events and introduce themselves to others, or say ‘yes’ to the lunch invite, or pitch in to serve at something.
Recently, a couple new to our church invited six people round for lunch that they’d met and offered wonderful hospitality. Those six didn’t know each other and themselves felt more connected as a result!
(3) They commit to tracking the teaching series the church is following – I’m a firm believer in the power of prayerfully discerned teaching series for Sunday gatherings around which the wider church can unite and through which it can journey. I spend hours praying and preparing not only my talks, but the teaching series as a whole, asking God to show me how best to lead the church in this particular way. By tracking a teaching series, people new to the church quickly imbibe vision, values, our theology and our practice and get caught up in what it is we are seeking to be and do. And crucially, if they miss a week, those who really connect will have listened online during the week to stay up to speed.
One guy who joined us about a year ago travels extensively and so uses his phone to listen to the talks he misses whilst he’s on planes or trains, and he feels part of things even if he’s away.
(4) They commit to a small group within the church – this is key. Finding a smaller group of people within the wider church and intentionally committing to doing life with them is the number one thing that will create deep connection. It’s more than just turning up each week to the group’s gathering. It’s about committing 24/7 to the group and blending your life into theirs. These are not perfect groups, and nor are they only way to develop strong relationships within a church, but it’s crucial.
I can think of a young adult who turned up on a Sunday regularly for a year but who would say he only really felt part of it all when he committed to a small group.
(5) They commit to serving others in some way – it truly is better to give than receive. The power of finding a way to serve as a new person is that it means you begin to invest in your new church early on and develop a vested interest. But it also means you get to know others beyond who you might naturally connect with. And it puts you in the place of giving not just taking.
We have one retired couple who when they first joined us asked me “what can we do to serve?”. For their first year they did what we needed someone to do. They became part of the furniture instantly!
(6) They commit to praying with, for and as the church – as well as serving, praying leads us to find ourselves with a vested interest. The people I see who really connect in quickly and deeply get involved in the prayer life of the church – not just prayer gatherings. It’s a posture… praying with the church whenever possibly, but for it and as it. When we pray with and for people, we develop a love and commitment that roots us in community.
I spoke a few weeks ago to someone who had joined a while ago and asked how connected they were feeling. She said the real sense of commitment to the church came when she decided to pray through our weekly news email each week – for the events, people involved and so on.
(7) They commit to supporting the church financially – finally, I see the difference that committing financially makes to people who are looking to get really connected. By taking this step, we literally choose to sow in to the community. It’s an indicator saying “I’m in”. The act of committing financially also seems to trigger a deeper awareness of the need to do the other six things I’ve listed.
So, done intentionally and consistently, these seven commitments will mean someone quickly and deeply connects into a church (assuming the church is geared up for this!).
Have I missed anything?