Allow me the pleasure of beginning with a cliché expression: Man, time sure flies. A year and a half ago (almost) I got married and moved to Michigan to accept the position of Student Ministries Pastor at Woodside… and, simultaneously, I abandoned the blog like it was a sinking ship. Well, I dug up a potential post I had drafted just after we (the bride and I) moved to the mitten and I thought I’d welcome myself back by sharing something I enjoyed re-discovering a year and a few months later- what it was like to be new! So, these were my thoughts just a month into a new church, a new job, and a new state (thanks to the staff and friends at Woodside for such a kind and welcoming beginning):
It has been officially one month on the job for me at Woodside Bible Church. It has been an intensely busy time- filled with a lot of fun, a lot of decisions, and incalculable help from people who cared to care.
Being new can be a challenge. Whether that means being new to a job, city, state, or section of a familiar classroom. So much is unknown when you are new- the people, the history, the resources, the roles/hierarchy, the expectations and even the language. Since it has been a long time since I’ve felt “new,” I had forgotten what it felt like which naturally led to fear. It was (and really still is) a glance into what it feels like to be new to a community- new to a church body.
We forget what it feels like to be new once we become acquainted with our community. In fact, even though we have become comfortable, our desperate pursuit to dive continually deeper into our existing relationships and subsequent levels of acceptance blinds us to the plight of others who are in genuine need for a little help in a new environment. Our relational selfishness preoccupies us at the expense of those who are entering our environment for the first time.
I know that this is often the case for me. It is certainly a reality in youth ministries and churches across the world. Students and Adults alike are so concentrated on their existing friendships (because they want to be loved) that they (I) do not realize those outside of our community who are yearning to be included. In its purest form this is of course called a “clique.”
But my experience as a newbie has left some fresh ideas of how to help others feel welcomed and included. I know they work because they have meant the world to me. For the sake of this post, I will try my best to label each action from the perspective of the one welcoming even though I experienced them as the one who was welcomed.
- When greeting them (and not just the first time) force yourself (and especially your eyes) to be obviously excited. Put a sparkle and a bounce in your personality, even if you don’t feel like it.
I’m sure it feels awkward, but it meant the world to me. When someone is new, they are looking for someone, anyone, to be genuinely interested in them. So act like they are “the most interesting person in the world”
- Go out of your way to keep them informed of the backstory as conversations continue. Make sure they are in your friend’s circle as they talk and inform them of the tidbits that make what is being discussed interesting.
A new person is completely lost in discussion that are not centered around topics of interest to them (sports, pop culture…) and even if they are present for your conversation, if they feel lost- they feel out of place.
- Treat them like they are the coolest person at the party (you know what I mean, picture the coolest person you know- then imagine how you act around them in a public setting). Go out of your way to acknowledge them at every opportunity, ask for their opinion on subjects at hand, and move your party to wherever they go. Even if it’s not true, giving them this honor will build their confidence in their role in your community.
We all remember and hate those times when we suggested something and got turned down by a group of people. If this happens when someone is new, the rejection is sure to burn deep and almost guarantees they shut themselves out. If they drift to the other side of the room, move your party with them once or twice. If they bring up a boring subject, entertain it for a while.
- As they leave, inform them that you are so pleased to have met them. Mention that you can’t wait to get together with them again. If possible, let them know of a time in the near future you want to see them again (party, event, gathering). Then, inform them that they absolutely must join you and your friends next time- tell them they will have a spot with your crew.
While a good first visit is an important start, sometime the second visit is even more intimidating. Being assured that someone wants you back, AND wants you to be with them gives an intimidated person (aren’t we all) permission to approach you again in the future.