*and by welcoming I’m mostly talking about at church, but also in my people based ministry job. But I actually apply these things all the time, at people’s parties, funerals, sudden shared public experiences. I like to think I’d be useful in a plane crash.
So, I’m an introvert, and I don’t like new things, and I don’t like people (OK, well sometimes I do) and yet most people think I’m an extrovert who loves meeting people. Is this an evil deception on my part? Poor ability on behalf of others to understand people? An accident?
Well, I hope it’s not an evil deception, and it’s true that some people aren’t great at looking below the surface, but it’s certainly not an accident.
Instead, it’s an intentional practise on my part, for quite specific reasons, in most social circumstances, to be more than my natural self in order to love others.
1. Intentional. If left to my own devices, I would possibly never leave the house. Well, maybe occasionally, but only if people promised to be interesting and skip the small talk. If I’m ever gonna be welcoming, it has to be on purpose.
2. Specific reasons. This is connected to the final point, but I don’t just do this cos I feel like it’s what people should do. I love manners, I think they’re a sign of a gracious society of respect, but I try to be welcoming because it’s a measureably, provably good way of helping people become part of a community. So, the big reason is love, the specific reasons are; welcoming is a form of hospitality, it helps new people integrate into a community, it encourages others to think outside themselves too.
3. In most social circumstances. As stated above, I’m particularly thinking about the process of welcoming people at church (you know how the people up the front keep bugging you to be welcoming? I’m talking about that) but I do usually try to be welcoming wherever I am. It’s a service you can provide for others who might feel shy, sad, uncomfortable or uncertain. Plus, when you meet people, you never know what could happen through those a new connections, so it’s good to keep that in mind too.
4. In order to love others. When I’m at church, and there’s new people, or new-ish people, and I’m thinking about me, I could be thinking any or all of the following:
– I am fat and ugly, no one would want to talk to me.
– I am tired and want to go home.
– I am sick of being the one to do this, why can’t someone else talk to that new person?!
– I’d really love to be nourished this morning, instead of having to give, I give all week. Being nourished does not include awkward small talk. Ugh. I just really wanna talk to just my friends.
You will have your own versions of this. It could include things like:
– I am here to flirt. I only have one chance to see that girl this week, I’m gonna make a beeline for her and start leering.
– I have no idea what to say to people. This would be awful and full of awkward silences and they would never want to come back and may instead prefer to move to another state rather than have to talk to me again.
– I feel awkward talking to that weird looking older man, for I am but a 19 year old girl. I can tell from here that he’s weird.
Most of these things, when focussed on me instead of the other, would prevent me from ever bothering.
But here’s some things the new people are thinking:
– gaaaaaaaah!!! This is so awkward!!! I hate meeting strangers, and here I am, surrounded by strangers! And I don’t know what I’m doing, cos this is a new church and they do things weird here.
– ohmigosh, that weird old guy is going to come over and talk to me, and I am but a 19 year old girl. I can tell from here that he’s weird. Oh! He’s the minister… Awkward!!!
– I am trying to be brave today, but everyone is just talking to everyone else, and I don’t feel confident enough to break into someone’s conversation. Maybe I’ll just really quickly finish my awkward cup of tea and go and find another church where people are nice.
– I am fat and ugly and no one wants to talk to me (unfortunately, I’ve had people, real life people tell me that at this point they’re thinking, “it’s cos I”m Asian/black/gender-ambiguous isn’t it” (for eg) which is sad enough that people have so many reasons to feel that and terrible when/if that’s actually what’s going on!!!).
Imagine feeling all that stuff! And being surrounded by people who are so busy thinking of themselves they can’t be bothered talking to you!
If you want to love and welcome other people, you’re gonna have to get over yourself. Yes, you might be fat and ugly, you might hate meeting new people, but this is not about you. It’s about them.
So, if you’re like me, what do you do to be better at this? Once you’ve fixed the attitude that is.
1. I try to take care of myself. What a place to start, right? But seriously, I tend to feel most depressed and self-conscious when (I stop taking my medicine) I don’t get enough sleep, or spend some time doing things I enjoy, or having fun with people I love. So, I try to make sure I do that stuff so I’m as energised and fresh for the (for me) harder task of meeting new people.
2. You can actually learn small talk and practise makes perfect. “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met before. Is this your first time here? Oh, and what brought you along today? What do you do during the week? How did you find the service today? Would you prefer to eat poo flavoured icecream or icecream flavoured poo?” There are various questions that work across lots of different demographics, and the key thing is to listen because then you might have a follow up question. “Oh, so you’ve moved to the area, how did the move go? What brought you here?” Etc etc etc. Before you know it, you’re having a conversation. YES it’s not the most riveting conversation ever had, but it’s better than leaving them standing there alone, and you can introduce them to someone else too. Then they know TWO people!
3. Recruit other people. Maybe you are a 19 year old girl and don’t want to approach older men (for eg), then, get to know some of the guys in your church and, when you notice the new guy, drag one of the guys you already know with you to make it less awkward.
ALSO, sometimes you do just need a week on the bench. The week has been really draining and you do just need to catch up with a friend. Your anxiety level is high today and the fact that you left your house is energy enough. That’s great! You do that! Let someone else do this occasionally. If we’re all welcoming, everyone can have their necessary time off. Sometimes it’s your friend who’s had the crazy weekend they just need to debrief with you. Again, that’s great, you’ve encouraged all the other people at church to be welcoming, so you don’t have to carry the whole load by yourself. Hooray!
And that’s it actually, that’s all I’ve done/all I do, and I’ve convinced literally hundreds of people that I’m confident and happy to meet them! Slash, and more importantly, I’ve helped hundreds of people survive their first week at a new church and showed them some of the love of God.
You do not have to be a glamorous, extroverted, confident person to welcome people into your church and church family, cos even I can do it! You don’t need a personality change; you just have to care.