If you’ve been following these reflections, you will know that recently I had a piece about our welcomers and how the leadership of the whole congregation rests with them at the point of welcome. I have made it a point that we give out, and as much as possible get back our ‘visitor Return Slips’.
Well that prompted me to go back over the visitor return slips that I have collected and pasted into a book over the past two years to see what has happened. Here are the results.
First of all, without even counting them etc., I can tell you that we are collecting e.mail addresses. In our regular ‘mail out’ for advertising events, and sending out the newsletter, I have about 108 addresses. This is not a bad data base. It helps us keep in touch with people who are on our fringes or who live a long way away, but want to keep in touch with us.
I remember Bishop John A.T. Robinson saying ‘There are a lot of different places that people are in relation to the Church. It is a bit like a chocolate. The church often has a ‘soft centre’ and ‘hard edges’. That is, it’s hard to ‘break into’ a congregation, but once people do, all they find at the centre is mushiness. But the better way is to have ‘soft edges and a hard centre’. That means that at the fringe there are a lot of different places to be, but once people move toward the centre, then the commitment requirements go up and the necessary knowledge to participate properly goes up. The job of the congregation is to facilitate the movement. So our collecting e.mail addresses is a way of caring for people at our fringes. I plan to go through the list and add the e.mail addresses that I have not added so far, and to follow up people who have said ‘I am new to the community’ but who have not come back, just to find out what their thinking is.
Each time I collect one, I send a greeting, and a welcome after the service. Some research that I read said that if a person who comes for the first time receives a visit from a lay person within 72 hrs. of their attending church, then that person is more likely to return. A lay person does not ‘have to’ be kind, so a visit from them counts more than a visit from a clergyman or woman. I would love to find someone who would take on this welcoming ministry. Is there anyone being called to this?
So as the welcomer each Sunday takes the risk of rejection (which is the privilege of sharing in the sufferings of Christ) by handing out the visitor return slip, and making sure it is filled in, they are also doing the very important job of helping us become a ‘missionary congregation’ by helping us to gather and then attend to our ‘fringe’ group of people. This is just so much more than ‘handing out books.’
So now to some statistics. I have collected 88 visitor return slips. Of these 50 have been visitors who do not intend to return, or who come once or twice a year. The rest (38) say that they are ‘New in the Community’. Each of these people is then a potential new member. Eight of these 38 say that they are interested in becoming a member. Here is for me the most interesting number, Of that 38, 17 have become members of our congregation.
This needs some thinking about. Who are 21 who are new to the community but have not become members here? Some of these people are from the Glion Institute of Higher Education, or the Hotel Schools. These come for a while, (six months or a year at most) and then go on to other things. The people we minister to from these institutions varies from year to year. You might like to know that I have written to a number of institutions asking if we could make a presentation as part of the induction of new students, telling them about us, but so far I have had no replies. I’m about to follow this up.
Some of these people have passed us by for other reasons. Some people are looking for a tradition of worship that is less sacramental, and has newer, different style of music. I hesitate to call it ‘Pentecostal’ because we too are a ‘Pentecostal’ Church in that God guarantees the presence of the Spirit with us, is has nothing to do with the style of worship we have. But it is clear that our emphasis on a particular way of doing the Eucharist and our choice of music both attracts some, and makes some keep looking. Children are also an issue. We know that some people pass us by because we do not have a big children’s ministry. ‘Unto those who have, more shall be given.’ In secular terms this means ‘Success breeds success.’ It is a salutary lesson to us that unless we are working toward developing the ‘next thing’ and continually connecting afresh with our changing environment we will go down hill. This does not mean ‘dumbing down’ or sacrificing the gospel. I have often said ‘We are not a shop’ but a group of disciples. But at the point of contact with new people, they are treating us like a ‘shop’. Our job is to try to find ways to connect with them.
But the good news is that we have 17 new people! I was surprised to discover this many. Some of them do not come every Sunday, some of them come from a long way away, but that is how many new people we have about whom we can say that they ‘belong’, when before they did not. That is not bad. We must be doing something right for these people. This is a matter for rejoicing. We have lost some people: either through their moving away, or through their inability to accept the decisions of the Chaplaincy council about a renewed emphasis on becoming a missionary congregation. This is inevitable, but welcoming new members is not inevitable. Thank you all for the role you play in in a myriad of ways, from welcoming, to offering your part in the worship, to speaking to newcomers after Church, to making coffee. Each time you do this, you are the leader of the congregation for that person. We may still be struggling, but we are also doing something correctly.