(Members of One Body Series – Part 2 of 3)
As youth and adults are relocating for school, starting new jobs, marrying someone from the Coptic faith, or looking for a church to settle into, they are often joining new church communities. In the last eight years, I myself have moved around and integrated into three different church communities (due to marriage and ordination). I’ve seen some communities do a great job at welcoming others, and also found myself on the greeting side.
We are all members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12), and as much as church is the place where we connect with God, it is also a place where we connect with the rest of His body. That’s why it’s so important that we put in effort to reach out to and welcome new members that walk into our churches.
Here are a few things you and I can do to contribute to the growth of our communities, no matter how large or small our role is in the church:
1. See Them
This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but how many times do we find ourselves only focusing on seeing our friends and familiar faces, that we take no notice of new ones?
I was once sitting in our church’s crying room with one of my children very early at the start of a liturgy (you have no choice when your husband is the priest and you don’t want to drive yourself). I’m usually the only one there at this time, but this particular day I noticed a new mom. I said hello and asked where she was from, and I learned about how she was new to the country and how lost she felt being at a new church not knowing anyone else there. I was able to help her as best as I could and made her transition a little easier, and I’m thankful for the friendship that resulted.
In smaller church communities it’s much easier to notice new comers. But if you’re in a large church, like me, it can be more challenging. This requires us to keep our eyes open and be bold enough to approach someone you’re not familiar with. They might be new to the church, or perhaps just new to you. Either way, you might make a new friend.
Don’t let the fear of awkward conversation hold you back. What’s the worst case scenario? The exchange is a little awkward, but they’re happy you took the effort to say hello? Not that bad if you ask me.
2. Connect Them
Once you’ve met someone and learned more about them, take the time to connect them to others. Introduce them to your group of friends. Invite them to an after-church hang out. Introduce them to the priest if they haven’t met him already. Find out if they have any interests and connect them to people with the same interests.
I once met a young newlywed who moved from Egypt to be with her husband. Between the new culture, new country, and new church she was feeling overwhelmed by all the change. I eventually found out she used to sing in the choir in her previous church, so I connected her with the choir at our church. From there she was able to form a new group of friends, and easily relate to people who were once in her shoes.
Another spouse who had converted to the Coptic faith became more familiar and comfortable with his church community by joining their sports team. He had always loved playing soccer and once his priest learned this he connected him with the soccer team. He was able to get to know the other men in his church and form a bond with them through something they all had in common.
2. Check on Them
It’s not enough to just meet someone and say hello once, maybe twice. The key to any good relationship is follow-up. If you haven’t seen someone in a few weeks, pick up your phone and check on them. You have no idea how far that goes with someone. The fact that you noticed they weren’t there and decided to do something about it is impactful. Just think of when someone did that for you, how did it make you feel?
That mom friend I mentioned above eventually moved to a different state, and once in a while we’ll still check on each other to see how things are going. Ask your new friends how you can pray for them. If there is something they need help with beyond your capacity, point them in the right direction and trust God will do the rest.
Just doing these small acts can make someone’s transition into a new church much easier. If we’re instructed to be the light of the world, let’s start by at least being the light in our church and being a helpful, welcoming, connecting presence for others.