Now that my sister Sarah is off on her own in Orlando, FL. I remember how hard it was for me when I first began my career to find a church. Here is an open letter her potential church based on her and my experiences in this. If you’ve never been “new” you don’t know what its like!
Dear Future Church for my sister,
Here are some things I wish you would remember as my sister visits your church.
1 – She doesn’t know the church schedule even if it is printed in the bulletin. Invite her! Tell her how to dress!
Sometimes churches wonder why new visitors don’t “do more” with them. After all — there is a wealth of activities and they are all printed right there in the bulletin. The fact is, newcomers don’t know what they are invited to.
The fear of any newcomer is embarrassment — going to the wrong thing, dressing in the wrong way, being alone, showing up too early or too late.
Invite her to events and let her know how to dress. If you have a big Tuesday night singles thing — tell her! She wants to know! She needs to get involved.
Let her know if everyone is usually late or usually early. If you’re going to meet her to take her to an event — be early, she will be because she’s nervous. When you are late she is still just that — alone! Not only is she alone but she feels betrayed. Not a good first experience.
2- Don’t assume she knows where anything is!
The worst transition time is between Sunday school and church or vice versa if your services are reversed. She doesn’t know where to go and she doesn’t want to sit alone. She needs someone to invite her. Ladies, don’t treat her like she’s out to steal your boyfriend, she doesn’t know whose “attached” and whose not, she’s just looking for a friendly face. If she’s talking to your boyfriend, come up, introduce yourself and ask if she wants to sit with you in church. She’d rather sit with another lady her first visit anyway. She’s not looking for a husband – she’s looking for a body of Christ. She doesn’t want to be distracted. Your boyfriend can sit on the other side of you and that’s fine.
If you’re a guy and you don’t want to come across as being “interested” just kindly say — “We all usually sit ___” would you like me to show you where that is?
3 – Invite her to sit with you!
This is the biggest thing. In several churches during college, she was the only one her age in church. Not only was she not asked to sit with — in one church she was asked to move — three times! I am ashamed when Christians treat newcomers like pariah’s. Would you let Jesus sit on your pew? When you ask her to move, you are rejected the very Savior who made her — (see the verses from Matthew 25 below.) You could be entertaining angels unawares and in my sister’s case — she is an angel!
It takes more than greeters pointing someone into church for them to go sit and be alone. Last week there was a single lady at our church and she sat with me with my husband on the other side. Better awkward than alone.
Sarah needs to feel like someone wants her there and like people are kind. She’s not there looking for dates (at least that’s not her first priority) it would just be nice to find some friendly faces.
4 – Don’t assume you know what she wants
My sister loves hymns — she doesn’t like repetitious music so the traditional service is what she wants. Yes, she’s the 25 year old exception but that’s the fact. She went to one church where all the folks could tell her was that she should go to the other service where she’d feel more comfortable.
The only thing that made her uncomfortable was the feeling that everyone in the Sunday School was trying to get rid of her. What was wrong with her? Didn’t they think she knew the difference between the services? She is an adult and can make up her own mind.
Remember to offer good options for both sets of Sunday Schools — traditional should not mean unwelcoming of new people. Jesus welcomed the crowds to him.
5 – Don’t assume because you don’t see her a Sunday or two that she’s dropped out.
Singles often go home on the weekends. She’s so far away she may not come home much but she will some. She still needs to be invited. Sometimes she might need to be invited several times. Call her! Flyers are impersonal (but good reminders too!)
6 – Don’t just assume she needs a Sunday morning experience and that’s it!
You see, the guys in the apartment next door always invite her over for drinks but she doesn’t drink. She doesn’t go but they ask every Friday and every Saturday night. She needs alternatives for Friday and Saturday nights or she might be sitting home alone – thinking about going next door! Christian ladies like her who don’t drink and are keeping themselves pure don’t fit in the world. People her age can be cruel when they see she doesn’t do those things — they don’t understand it and it makes them feel uncomfortable.
Invite her to trips and weekend things. If you have a boyfriend but work close to her office — invite her to lunch! GEt her phone number and give her yours!
It may take several invites before she accepts — keep asking. Take turns asking so you don’t feel paranoid. There’s nothing like a phone call so get her number and let her know you’ll call her when something comes up. Please!
7 – You will be rewarded
We are kind to others because Jesus tells us to. A single, alone in a new city feels like they are in prison. They are busy unpacking so they are hungry and thirsty. They don’t know anyone so they are lonely. They are a stranger and need people to take them into their lives. Sometimes in the stress of it all they get sick. My sister had to find a place to go to the doctor this weekend and she doesn’t know where to go. Get her phone number and give her yours so she can ask questions from someone who lives there!
New people are not a threat — they are an opportunity for reward for those Christians who care about what Jesus will say to them at judgment. This is not about being seeker friendly — it is about just being friendly!
To ignore her is to face the displeasure of Jesus Christ. She is an angel and when you mistreat her and leave her out it breaks the heart of not only her but her family who loves her. I believe it grieves the heart of Christ. We expect sister churches to welcome her like they would welcome us older professionals with more money and children. Pay attention to her! She is important to us!
New church for my sister. The one she chooses will be faithful! Here is your verse from Matthew 25
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him,[d] saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Dear Lord, Today I pray for our Southern Baptist Churches to be welcoming to fellow Christians who come into their doors. Open our eyes to the hurting lonely people in our midst. Help us to invite singles to events and understand that there are more of them than ever. Forgive us when we are more concerned about keeping our pew than keeping God’s pleasure upon us. Let us keep the tradition of loving others as a more important goal than anything else. I beg you to help Sarah find the perfect church for her. Help her find friends in a lonely place. Help her be welcomed and treated as people would treat Jesus Christ. Let us all pray and see how our own churches need to change to be more welcoming to those new to our communities. Forgive us and give us a second chance. I continue to pray for the IMB Board and our precious Southern Baptist denomination. In Jesus name. Amen.