At the End of the Day…
By Mary Parmer, part of the Vestry Papers issue on Real Basics for Vestries (January 2012)
Cultivating new practices of invitation, welcome, and connection that are rooted and grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ will transform our congregations … this is the heart of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas’ Newcomer Ministry Project.
Imagine what would happen if the clergy and laity of the Episcopal Church lived into the idea that we are a part of salvation history and God’s mission in the world. Imagine if we overcame our fear of invitation, if we obeyed Jesus’ gospel mandate to see and welcome the stranger into our midst, and if we cultivated the sacred act of listening. Compelling stories emerge from congregations around our diocese that take these imaginings seriously, and one by one they experience transformation.
The Diocese of Texas is doing more than responding: They are now piloting their Newcomer Ministry Project at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Houston. This congregation recently began using the assessment tools to evaluate their invitation, welcome, and connection processes. They began to see the school on their campus and the families and students as their biggest mission field. Only 10 percent of the students’ families were members of the church; and, within six months of refocused effort, an additional 10 percent had joined the church or were attending regularly.
The Newcomer Ministry Project’s primary objective was the creation of tangible materials for congregations to use in the development of effective newcomer ministry. These are now available on the diocesan website (http://www.epicenter.org/newcomer), and congregational coaches have been trained to assist locally with implementation of the ministry.
Complacency around newcomer ministry is the greatest challenge for Episcopal congregations today, and it might be our prevailing sin. We think of ourselves as a “friendly community” when in reality we are a “community of friends.” Observe, if you will, any average Sunday morning coffee hour and you will see people talking primarily with friends, not the stranger in the room.
Action is another serious challenge. At the end of the day, our actions speak louder than our words. It is not what we say, teach or preach—it is what we do! At the end of the day, did we see Christ in the newcomers who walked in our doors? More importantly, did they see Christ in us?
Although there are no magic pills for turning around flat or declining church membership, failure to address the essentials of newcomer ministry will keep the revolving back door spinning in our congregations. These broad essentials make up the Newcomer Ministry Project and include:Invitation, Welcome, and Connection.