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19.12.2014 : 16:46

Guidelines and considerations for local church hospitality

When reviewing these guidelines and considerations take time to place yourself in the role of a newcomer or first time visitor at your church - or, as appropriate, as a foreigner in your city/country. Don't assume people have any prior knowledge about your local church, community, or culture.

Introduction: "The First Impressions"

  1. How can people find your church?  How are you visible to newcomers or strangers in the community?  Remember a time when you were a stranger in a new community.  How did you find a church – Visitor/Tourist Center, phone book, link to a web site, downloadable map, local advertising, other? 
  2. Are there good maps to your church including walking and public transportation? Where can these be found – tourist center, web sites, asylum center, airport, train station, etc.? Is there clear information about parking options for those who drive?
  3. How are persons welcomed when they enter your church?  Can they find the sanctuary, WC, Sunday School, nursery, etc.?
  4. How do people in your church respond to someone coming to church in unkempt clothes?  Smelling as if they have not had a bath in days? Drunk or high? Smoking?
  5. Are there unspoken "rules" in your congregation – ie. standing or sitting during singing or Prelude and Postlude, children should be seen and not heard, persons arriving late should stay at the rear, etc.?  Are these shared with others so the stranger might not feel out of place?
  6. Are Child Protection policies in place? If children have a special program, are children of visitors or newcomers invited and encouraged to participate? (If they chose not to participate, is their choice respected?)
  7. Does the host church/German UMC include your congregation’s information in their bulletin/newsletter?  Is your information readily available to the neighboring congregations (UMC and other) so they may assist persons looking for an English language worshipping congregation?

Worship and Service: The First Experiences

  1. How are visitors and new persons made to feel welcome/ comfortable in the worship service?  How is the congregation made aware that there are visitors/newcomers in their midst?
  2. Are any arrangements made for those who are hard of hearing? Handicapped? Those speaking another language?  Those bringing their pets?
  3. Are the words of common liturgical elements - ie. Lord’s Prayer, Doxology - printed in the bulletin or located with a page number?
  4. If there are special congregational practices such as passing the peace in a closed circle, or sharing communion at the altar, or joining hands during the benediction, are these explained to the visitors or newcomers either in writing or orally so they understand what is happening?
  5. If there are visitors from a country using a different currency, are there clear instructions for how to give during the service or later?  (This is more critical when there are visitors who are tourists in the worship.)
  6. Is there a procedure if someone starts shouting during the service, interrupts the service, gets sick during service or has a medical need?

Follow-up: What next?

  1. What happens at the end of the service?  Do strangers or newcomers find themselves just standing around or are they welcomed and invited to any after church gatherings?
  2. Has information been gathered so there can be a contact either in person, on the phone or through e-mail sometime during the week?
  3. If the visitor has special needs such as a refugee or asylum seeker or is undocumented, is someone in the church prepared to follow-up to seek ways the church might offer companionship and safety in addition to any physical needs?  Does the church keep a list of contacts for assistance with housing, food and shelter as well as legal needs? Does the church keep a list of language ministries in the area to assist those whose language is not the language of the specific church?
  4. If a person works on Sundays or is otherwise unable to attend worship, how is that person made to feel welcome in the life of the congregation and included in its activities?  Is there a communication system in place?
  5. Is there a way to communicate prayer requests and concerns to all including the new persons who may want to share in the community of prayers?
  6. Does your local church want to consider creating some type of "welcome packet" including information about the community or city, information about adjusting to living in Germany, and/or specific information about your local church?

Finally:  Is all this work being done by the pastor alone or with just a few persons assisting the pastor?  Consider having a congregational study or program on the issue of hospitality and God’s welcome in your local congregation.