Church Wellness – 5 Real-World Lessons in Membership Development



Since starting to attend the Episcopal Church nearest to our new home in Upstate New York, I have learned five real-world lessons about membership development.

Lose the cluster of assigned greeters

I repent of every time I trained ushers to greet visitors. Upon entering this new church, I wanted a service bulletin and ready access to a pew. Give me a table holding bulletins rather than four greeters who interrupt their conversation to scrutinize me, as if assessing my worthiness. I know this isn’t what they intend. I’m just saying how it feels on the receiving end.

Offer something solid

I haven’t needed the service to match any previous experience or to suit my preferences or to be flawlessly executed. I just want them to “sin boldly,” that is, to do what they do with a sense of purpose and urgency. I want to know that God matters to people here. I don’t expect instant friendship. I just want to know that they are serious about being a faith community and not just “playing church.”

Lose the Peace

Seriously. The pendulum has swung far enough away from being “God’s frozen chosen” to being a maelstrom of people going up and down the aisle looking for anyone they haven’t greeted. The maelstrom’s message: we put socializing first.

Don’t force me into conversation

Same need to repent of every time I trained greeters to engage visitors after worship, get their personal data, and shepherd them to coffee hour. I have wanted to move at my own pace. I worshiped with them for five weeks before I requested a name tag. The next week I made my first venture to coffee hour. I had a nice conversation and left. From week one, though, I wanted them to have my email address. I would happily have put it on a pew pad if they dared to use this simple device.

The pastor’s contact means everything

I know many clergy don’t enjoy mixing it up with visitors. Get over it. There is no substitute for the pastor’s reaching out. I had a delightful lunch with my new pastor. She greets me warmly each Sunday. I just attended a 12-person dinner party at her home. There’s a reason why we remember Jesus in the breaking of the bread — that is, actual meals where people can connect.

Please don’t take any of this as fussing. One promise I made to myself when I began attending this church was, “No fussing.” I will take what they offer, be grateful for it, and, in time, add what I can. I don’t expect them to adapt to me.

I am just intrigued that my actual experience of being a newcomer doesn’t follow all of the scripts that I once taught.


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