This month’s Vestry devotion is submitted by Vestry member Chris Hall.
Recently some Good Shepherd members and I spent a Saturday attending a seminar at St. Gabriel’s Church. The Seminar was to learn about the Invite Welcome Connect (IWC) ministry. The purpose is to help congregations like Good Shepherd’s grow by assessing and improving how they Invite, Welcome and Connect community members to their church. These three pieces of the ministry are all equally important and give parishioners a chance to participate in different ways.
The first portion of the seminar was about the Invite piece. We discussed the theory of evangelism and ways the congregation could prepare its members in an organized way to invite new individuals to our Church. After the discussion, Mary, who was leading the seminar, played a short video for us that showed how you might invite someone you know to the Church. In the video two neighbors were talking in their front yard one Sunday morning. One neighbor had just gotten home from church, and the other neighbor was gardening and clearly did not go to church. The church-going neighbor was asking himself, “How can I start a conversation about going to church with my neighbor?” The other neighbor was thinking to himself “I wonder if my neighbor will ever invite me to his church?” The video was designed to be rather comical, but also showed how these opportunities to invite exist in real life.
Thinking back to a time when our family had recently moved from Vermont to our neighborhood in Centennial, a situation happened where I experienced one of the pieces of the IWC program. I was working in the yard when my neighbor John approached me. John and I had the normal conversation about the weather and how nice it was to be in Colorado. And then John turned to me and asked if my family went to church, and if we had found a church here in Colorado yet. I hadn’t found a church for the family, but I really wasn’t looking for one yet. I politely said that we were still busy getting acclimated to Colorado and would think about that later.
It occurs to me now that my neighbor John was practicing the invite portion of the Invite, Welcome, Connect ministry. I admire him for trying to invite us in, even if we didn’t accept the invitation at the time. I can’t help but wonder now if John practices this form of evangelism with other people he meets? And do other members of his church practice this with people they meet? What would happen if Good Shepherd’s parishioners were like this in the future?
The next segment of the seminar was about the Welcome portion of the ministry. Once a newcomer comes into your church, how well do we welcome them? Mary talked about the fact that everyone has a story, and that story is probably the reason they are at your church. Their story is the link to bringing them into the church, and the only way to learn their story is to talk with that person and ask questions. After a short discussion, Mary presented an exercise that we all were asked to participate in. Since this was the Welcome portion of the seminar, the exercise was to practice greeting and talking with someone you haven’t met before. Mary asked each of us to turn to a stranger in the room and introduce yourself, as if this was somebody new who had come to your church for the first time. Well, my first thought was that this will be a little difficult and that I hadn’t prepared for this. Will I know what to say and will what I have to say be interesting enough? What if I can’t keep the conversation going? Okay, the real problem was that I was about to be forced out of my comfort zone. Well, there was very little time to get anxious about the exercise since almost as fast as Mary explained it she instructed us to start.
I turned to a gentlemen near me and we started talking. Peter was his name and he was a native of Colorado and was from Evergreen. I told him that I moved here from Vermont 10 years ago. Peter said he used to travel to Vermont to ski when he lived in New Haven Connecticut for a time. I said that my wife was born in New Haven and the conversation continued from there. Keeping the conversation going was actually easier than I thought it would be, and I met a nice person that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. However, you could say I failed the exercise though since I failed to find out Peter’s story. At least this was practice and I learned from the experience just the same. Leaving my comfort zone wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be and with some practice this could be fun instead of intimidating.
Lastly, the seminar focused on the Connect piece of the ministry. The purpose of Connect is to link individuals to a ministry and give them a sense of belonging. The theory is that if a new member of the congregation becomes interested and connected to a ministry then they are more likely to stay connected with the church long term. Current members of the church help connect new members by getting to know them, to learn their skills and interests. I recall soon after joining Good Shepherd being approached by a member of the congregation that I hadn’t even met yet. He had heard through someone else that I was an accountant and wanted to talk about an opportunity that he thought would interest me. I became involved with a ministry because someone noticed me and took the time to talk with me. I believe the connect piece was very important for my family at Good Shepherd and the reason we are still here today. Each of us has been involved in multiple ministries over the past 10 years. Our sons joined the youth group and benefitted from the companionship and experiences they wouldn’t have had otherwise. We all enjoyed working on the Pumpkin Patch together and felt really good about the money we helped raise for local charities. Today, years later, my youngest son is a member of the choir, my wife is on the Altar Guild, and I am on the Finance Committee. We are very connected to Good Shepherd. The ministries at Good Shepherd have definitely created that sense of belonging for us.
I am excited that our Church is starting the Invite, Welcome, Connect ministry. I believe we are just scratching the surface of what the IWC ministry can do for Good Shepherd. It will be exciting to see how each of the three pieces of the ministry evolves, and how they help the congregation of Good Shepherd grow in the future. What will your role in the Invite, Welcome, Connect ministry be?