Sunday morning can be one of the loneliest places at church. If it's your first time, if you haven't been in ages, or if you just moved to town, you can find yourself completely surrounded by people and still feel very, very much by yourself. Community is one of the best things about the life of the church, but if folks have a hard time accessing it, then we've not made a community, but instead a clique.
Our work as Christians is to be building up communities of people who want to care for and be cared for by one another, and who want to practice a different way of being together. Even 2000 years later, Christianity is the same project, and I think it might be healthy to return to a bit of the welcome-savviness of those house church starters. What would it be like to imagine that every person who walks through our doors for the first time could be a precious and powerful member of our community? What would it be like to welcome them as such?
Here are a few tricks to get that skill a-practicin'.
If you see someone you don't know, go up and introduce yourself.
If it feels awkward that's okay. Awkwardness can be a good thing, and if you make the first move, then you're giving them the gift of being the awkward one (rather than having them have to introduce themselves).
Don't make assumptions, even small safe ones.
Don't frame questions around presumptions: "Are you new here?" "Are you a student?" Imagine asking somebody if they are a student and they say "I'm 29 and I work at Dahlgren....." Instead try asking open ended questions: "I don't think I've met you before, what's your name?" "How long have you been coming here?" "What do you do?"
For goodness sake, don't comment on their appearance.
Imagine it's your first Sunday at a new place and the very first interaction you have with someone is them saying "WHY ARE YOU WEARING SHORTS ITS COLD." Or, "woww,, does that neck tattoo make you unemployable?" or "aww are you pregnant!!!" It's almost always awkward, and even if your brain is thinking these things, your mouth doesn't have to say them.
Introduce them to somebody else-- especially someone you think they might connect with.
"Oh you're a musician, here's a member of our choir!" "Oh you're a college student, here's one of our other students." "Oh you're a young adult, can I connect you to Fr./Pastor Ethan?" Connecting with one new person at church is a huge accomplishment, but connecting with two or three or four can be even better.
It is brave work to be new somewhere and one of the best ways to be the Church is to meet their bravery with a little bravery of our own. Again, it can feel awkward or weird to initiate the first little moment of small-talk with a new person, but it might just be that your gesture of welcome (or even better, gestures of welcome from multiple people) is the reason a newcomer finds a new home with us.