People want and need community which at its core is a sense of belonging. People are looking for a place to connect with others, a feeling of belonging, and a sense of community. The desire and need to be with other people is part of our DNA. A recent MIT study found we crave interactions in the same region of our brains where we crave food, and another study showed we experience social exclusion in the same region of our brain where we experience physical pain. In a similar vein, a study at the University of Michigan found when people lack a sense of belonging, it is a strong predictor of depression. 1 Let’s face it, people need people!
When new people are checking out your church, they are most likely looking for community – a place to belong. This is why making people feel welcome, seen, respected, and where they could see themselves actually belong is so important. According to MinistryInsites, the top preference guests desire is a warm and friendly encounter.
Last week we talked about hospitality being beyond friendly. This week, we need to understand the distinction between connecting people with ministry and connecting people with community. There’s a huge difference!
Remember, hospitality speaks to those first impressions for guests. Extravagant hospitality exceeds guests’ expectations. Connection is the collection of steps and actions beyond hospitality that lays out opportunities for new people to connect to the life of the spiritual community. Think about the messaging and steps in your church’s connection process. What is it communicating to the guest? Where is it pointing the guest to? How are the messages and steps helping guide the guest and reflecting the mission, vision, and values of the congregation?
Let’s use the guest “goodie bag” as an example. What a church includes, how it is packaged, how it is delivered, and the messaging on the items speaks volumes to the guest about their options, who the church is, and if they can find that sense of belonging they are seeking. Often churches fill bags with brochures (often outdated) and dime store junk that have no value or connection to the guest. It’s as though we are providing a sales menu of options. The guest has to choose one and find their own way to plug into one of them. Finding a “gift” bag full of unrelatable literature does not leave a guest feeling honored, cared for, seen, or understood.
Instead, what if the guest was invited to the locally owned coffee shop to join the “connector” (achurch lay person who connects with guests). The connector purchases a cup of the guest’s favorite brew in an insulated stainless mug bearing the logo of the local coffee shop for the guest to take home. The connector is genuinely interested and invested in getting to know the guest. The connector asks open ended questions. Tell me your story. What brought you to the church? What are you looking for in a church? What questions do you have? How can I be helpful? Rather than our “go to” first step for guests of understanding of what kind of community and sense of belonging the guest is seeking. What the guest is looking for may not even exist yet. Without these types of listening conversations, the church will likely miss opportunities for launching new communities or new ministries. Instead, this guest will not find their sense of belonging in that dime store goodie bag and will not return to the church.connecting to a ministry, we must first connect with them relationally. By spending time with the guest, the connector will have a better understanding of what kind of community and sense of belonging the guest is seeking. What the guest is looking for may not even exist yet. Without these types of listening conversations, the church will likely miss opportunities for launching new communities or new ministries. Instead, this guest will not find their sense of belonging in that dime store goodie bag and will not return to the church.
Is your church still trying to connect new people to ministry? Or are you connecting new people to community? What is your intentional, relational connection process for helping new people connect? And remember, new people enter the life of the church throughout the week – not just Sunday mornings. Make sure you have a connection process for anyone who encounters the life of the church anytime throughout the week. If your congregation would like to learn moreabout connecting relationally with new people and setting up the systems to do so, check out this on demand Connections webinar.