24. Welcome, Welcome, Welcome!

There was a practice I first developed while serving as a pastor that I continue now as a Bishop. Before each sermon, I offer a brief word of welcome to everyone. When I served as a senior pastor at a large congregation, I often did not have a speaking role in the worship service until I stood up to read the scripture and to offer the sermon. Even though other staff members had welcomed people during the announcements at the beginning of the service, I still felt compelled to add my own.

I usually say something like, ìWelcome to First United Methodist Church. We are delighted that you are worshipping with us today. Whether you are a first time visitor to our congregation, or a long-time member, we pray that you find something in this time together that speaks to you a word of comfort or of challenge, of encouragement or of reminder. We hope that through the music we sing together or the scripture and word we reflect upon together or the fellowship we enjoy together, that we may all find something that deepens our relationship with God and with one another and furthers our walk of faith. Thank you for being present, and if there are any way we can be of service to you, please let us know. You are always welcome at First United Methodist Church.î

Why did I do this every week? First, because it is absolutely and genuinely true. I really am grateful for peopleís attendance, and I really do pray that our service speaks to them a word of comfort or provocation that sustains or deepens their love for God and their desire to follow in the way of Jesus.  And I truly hope they do feel welcome. So why not say it?  Second, I say it because I want my most involved and long-serving members to feel that Iím just as delighted with their attendance as I am for the new and seeking visitor. Third, I say it because I want people to hear this from me as pastor. Welcome isnít just a word to put on the bulletin; it is something that  permeates the congregation. Since often it is the pastor who preaches to whom new people especially relate during their early weeks of attending a church, I want them to know how I feel personally about their attendance with us. And finally, I do it to offer a personal example of how easy it is for anyone to offer a word of welcome. By my simple statement, repeated with slight variations week in and week out, I hope that other staff members and lay leaders and volunteers begin to say something similar in their own voice to visitors and fellow members.  ìIím glad you are here today, and if thereís anything we can do to help, let me know.î

How do you say welcome? How does your sense of welcome reverberate throughout the church in the voices of pastors, choir members, childrenís teachers, nursery keepers, Sunday school classes, mission teams and youth ministries? Is there an unmistakable consistency that runs from top to bottom, from first visit to final breath, that all who step into our congregations are ìsurrounded with steadfast love so that they may be established in the faith?î

Yours in Christ,
 rs

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