Niddrie: A Welcoming Church?
This is an interesting little dilemma for NCC – well I say dilemma, more something I am musing on currently as I am reading. Lots of the books I am reading on church planting are dedicating whole chapters to the art of ‘welcoming’. It seems like it is a big thing, particularly in the USofA. Generally, I have not messed with the ‘welcoming rota’ at NCC and, to be brutally honest, I have no idea who is on it or even how the whole thing works. Does that make me a bad church planter? I don’t know. Maybe. We seem to be doing OK but there is a niggle in the back of my mind that makes me wonder if I am missing out on revival because of this oversight (not really – just said that for dramatic effect – and to be facetious!).
As I write this in NY I do so as a reminder to myself that upon my return I should at least give it more careful consideration (seriously now) and perhaps better assess our current ‘welcoming’ situation. In a church I visited this morning I did notice that the ‘greeters’ were well-groomed girls called Tiffany with lovely hair and perfect teeth. In fact everybody here has perfect teeth! I mean if I scrat around Niddrie I might find somebody with a perfect tooth, so that could be a problem (the hair could be a problem too – unless ginger suddenly becomes cool). Maybe we could start a ‘dentures’ ministry or ‘teeth (tooth) whitening’ for scummers like me who spent the first 25 years of our lives rubbing illegal substances around our gums instead of Colgate. Anyway, is it me or have I digressed? Where were we? Ah, yes. Welcoming people. I have a number of questions on this.
If our greeters/welcomers are people from outside of Niddrie is this detrimental? Would locals respond better to greeters/welcomers who actually lived in the area? Niddrons are a very suspicious lot when it comes to ‘outsiders’. Maybe seeing people they know outside the church doors on Sundays would encourage some people to stop, chat and maybe come in. On the other hand, does having greeters/welcomers from outside the community give them a chance to get to know some of the locals? Would it help them be more ‘intentional’ in terms of getting alongside people and looking for ways to serve them and interact with them besides welcoming them into the building? Things worth thinking about.
I can’t help thinking that behind all this angst (in certain circles anyway) lies a very middle-class preoccupation with making people feel comfortable. I am not saying there is anything wrong with that but in Niddrie I can safely say that most people couldn’t care less who welcomes them at the door as long as there is the promise of a hot brew and a biscuit on the other side. I think for a church like ours the issue is broader than the ‘greeters/welcomers’ rota. We should be helpful without being intrusive: help people find a seat, a Bible and keep an eye on them if they get lost in the service etc. I think it all boils down to 4 key things:
1. Be genuine. You can’t knock it – this is the biggie in a housing scheme (or anywhere for that matter). Unfortunately, we don’t run classes on this (if we did people would probably sign up – that’s how desperate things are these days!).
2. Love one another. John 13:35. People sniff us out from 500 yards. That’s why I love having a brew and a biccie before and after the service at NCC. The deacons may hate it, but i love it when we have to be ushered out the door to go home because people are yapping away to one another. I like the meal we have each month on the final Sunday because it give people a chance to BE with one another without rushing off. We need to be encouraging our people to see Sunday as a time for a family get together and not just for a service and then off out the door. Long term Christians are always the worst at doing this for some reason!
3. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2. This is an old chestnut of mine, I know. Literally it means, ‘to love strangers’ by inviting them around to your place or going to see them at theirs or – wait for the madness of this suggestion – doing both! Can I suggest that this sort of suggestion is why we are at the cutting edge of church planting in Scotland! I know its radical but just think about it for a second at least. In Niddrie you will get turned down the first 20 times but just persevere with it. Don’t invite people on their own because they won’t do it. make sure they bring a friend or there is someone they know already coming along. My wife is amazing at this and it is like the re-enactment of the miracle of the bread and fish (well, more like Yorkshire puddings and tatties – but you get the picture) at our house every week as I pick up every waif and stray at a moments notice which she happily caters for. What an under appreciated and undervalued gift and ministry this is in the life of any local church. I guarantee to you that I would not be as effective in my ministry without my amazing and wonderful wife – FACT!
4. Have patience with people. People are unbelievable clueless about the things of faith. I have to teach people what an index is never mind how to use the Bible! We must not make the mistake in our churches of (a) imposing our morals on unbelievers and expect them to behave like Christians when they are among us and (b) impose our morals on new believers and expect them to have a fully orbed theology and practice in five minutes. people come to the party with baggage that does not get put away easily. They say wrong things, they do wrong things, they think wrong things and they need a place to come where they can have the freedom to make mistakes without the fear of being pounced on by smug, self-righteous, know it alls and Pharisaical looneys. Yes, we must challenge sin but before we engage in that we must first of all question our motives and check our own hearts before we try to put somebody else to rights. we would save lots of pain, misunderstanding and people needlessly walking away from churches if we were better at holding our tongues, praying, engaging our brains and patiently loving people who may be taking longer to ‘get it’ than we did.
I love my little congregation. What a bunch of misfits we are but I do genuinely see these marks across the board as we work and love and serve in a very difficult place. May God continue to give us grace as we proclaim the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ both to ourselves and those who are perishing.