Welcome & Wanted
The Church is so much more than coming to a worship service, getting what you need, and leaving. God calls us to be a light on a hill, to love others, and to look to share that warmth with those both outside the walls and inside the walls. — Austin McWilliams
There’s a limited amount of time that we have before and after church on Sundays to greet others, and it has always been strange to me how quickly so many of us leave after the service is over. Much of that time is spent with people we already know, but I’ve always been curious about how newcomers feel coming to a new church where they don’t know anyone.
My heart naturally gravitates towards people that do not feel connected or welcomed in the church. Research has shown that most millennials (those in their 30s and late 20s) who grew up in church no longer attend church. I believe that so much of that happens because people feel disconnected when they come to church and even fear coming because of previous negative experiences with Christians. My goal on Sunday mornings is to reach out to new people, especially millennials, and offer more than just an impersonal, short friendly greeting at the door. I want people to have a real point of connection, whether that’s a phone number, social media, or just a name.
The Church is so much more than coming to a worship service, getting what you need, and leaving. God calls us to be a light on a hill, to love others, and to look to share that warmth with those both outside the walls and inside the walls.
I was sitting back in my chair and during the announcements one Sunday, and I saw a young couple in their mid-late 30’s who I had never seen before. I was staring for a bit, trying to figure out if I met them before, but nothing rings a bell. After the service, I got up from my seat to go intercept them and make sure they don’t leave Orangewood without connecting with someone their age. Our interaction went something like this:
Me: “Hey! Have you been to Orangewood before? I don’t think I’ve seen you around. I’m Austin. What are your names?”
Him: “We’re ______ and ______. And, no we’re from out of town.“
Me: “Oh, great! Where are you from?”
Him: “North Carolina.”
Me: “Oh great! I went to school at Wake Forest—I love the state. What brings you all down here?”
Him: “I’m looking to transfer jobs down to here.”
Me: “Oh, what do you work in?”
Him: *without skipping a beat* “Sales.”
Me: “Oh, awesome! And what do you do?” (speaking to her now)
Her: “I’m a music teacher.”
Me: “Oh, that’s fantastic! My wife is a choir teacher over at the First Academy and is occasionally up there on the worship stage. What do you teach?”
Her: “Oh, that’s cool! Voice and piano.”
Me: “Well, that’s great. Any kids?
Her: “Three kids.”
Me: “Excellent! I’m sure they’ve had a great time over at the kids club… Well, I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I just wanted to come over here and make sure that someone said hi to you before you leave. Orangewood is a great church That really desires to see people in authentic relationships with one another, bearing each other’s sins, loving each other in the ups and downs of life, and we have a budding young adults community. Let me give you my phone number and feel free to text me if you want to connect. I can get you in touch with a couple of people that would be great to connect with and who would welcome you into the area. Let me know whenever you’re in town next and I’ll invite you to one of the big get-togethers with the young adults!”
Him: “Well, that’s very kind of you.”
Me: “No problem. I hope you get the job! And, when you move down here, let’s connect.”
Him: “Thanks, Austin. Really appreciate that.”
During community group that week, Mark announced that the potential pastor had recently visited the church. I suddenly remembered the young couple I met on Sunday. I waited until community group was over and approached Mark.
Me: “Hey, Mark.”
Mark: “Hey, Austin.”
Me: “The pastor, the new potential one…can you tell me what it looks like?“
Mark: “I don’t think I can do that.”
Me: “ Ok, but maybe you can confirm to me what he doesn’t look like.“
Me: “Does he have a shaved head and wear round glasses?”
Mark: *long pause* “…I probably shouldn’t answer that question.”
That Sunday was the first time I met Tyler and Rachel Groff.
My interaction with them was an unexpected, small part of Tyler and Rachel’s first experience at Orangewood. My hope is that, as we continue to grow as a church, more people will take the approach to seek out people they don’t know, whether new or old attendees, and make sure they feel welcomed and wanted. After all, being welcomed and wanted is at the heart of Jesus and I hope it becomes the heart of the church.
Holly, Austin, & Hiker
Author: Austin McWilliams