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Chapter 5: Creating True friendship in Your Church

Church Worker Handbook -- What You Didn't Learn in Bible College and Seminary

Many churches specialize in five-second fellowship. These guidelines take you beyond that to real, substantive friendship.


© 2012, 1996 G. Edwin Lint

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These e-mail letters
have been received from readers of this chapter. It sure made me think. I recommend you click this link and read about The Lonely People before you read my chapter on "friendship."

My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will seek out the author of these letters and apply the Balm of Gilead to their lonely hearts. May the rest of us pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us in all our interpersonal relationships so this kind of thing doesn't happen in our churches. GEL

 Five-Second friendship

The smile is bright, the handshake is firm, and the voice is warm. And then it's over, all in less than five seconds. The locale is the vestibule of any number of evangelical churches and this little scenario is played out over and over again. Just a long succession of five-second friendships, one after another. Some of these five-second friendships may be during the service while everyone is invited to move around and shake hands, usually while singing a song like "The Family of God."

Maybe your church has interesting services and beautiful facilities. Your pastor may be a strong Bible teacher and your church may offer an active program. But what about the friendship? Is too much of it of the five-second variety, at least for visitors and those not closely associated with the church?

The growing practice of stationing "greeters" at the entrances of the church is creating opportunities for two-second friendship. These well-meaning greeters are asked to extend a smiling handshake to all who enter.

Self-Evaluation Check List

Take a few minutes and measure the friendship Quotient of your church. Score your congregation on a scale of 5 to 1, with 5 being Usually and 1 being Seldom.

5-4-3-2-1 Do you have assigned and trained greeters who meet people as they come in?

5-4-3-2-1 Do you have a system for registering first-time visitors?

5-4-3-2-1 Do you have an organized system of follow-up for each registered visitor?

5-4-3-2-1 Do you have an organized friendship program which is specifically designed to integrate new constituents into the social fabric of the congregation?

5-4-3-2-1 Do you take an inventory of the training and experience of new persons in your constituency?

5-4-3-2-1 Do you have a "safety net" for assuring that no individual or family goes through a time of great need without the spiritual and material support of the congregation?

5-4-3-2-1 Do you have organized age-group activities which are designed to touch the lives of all constituents on a frequent basis?

5-4-3-2-1 Do you have a new converts support and training program?

5-4-3-2-1 Do you have a spiritual crisis-intervention program?

Now, how did your church score? There are no national norms for this little self-evaluation quiz but a perfect score is 50. If you scored your church below 40, it may be failing in some important friendship responsibilities.

Let's discuss each of the items on the quiz:


Assigned Greeters

Everyone should greet visitors with a smile and the right hand of friendship. However, what is everyone's responsibility may become no none's responsibility. Therefore, it is important to assign persons to the specific job of helping visitors feel at home. Give these greeters a written job description, and train them in how to carry out their duties. The smile and the handshake are just one small part of the greeter's responsibility. The primary duties and responsibilities can include the following:

A. Learn the faces and names of the regular attendees so visitors may be spotted and greeted. In a large congregation, it will be next to impossible to identify every visitor and never greet a regular attendee as a visitor. However, an effort should be made to this end.

B. Help parents of small children find the nursery, junior church, and Christian education facilities. The greeter must know or have access to the appropriate destination of each person in the family.

C. Get assistance for an elderly worshipper who may need help with stairs or even walking. Be aware of assistance the church can provide for persons with disabilities, such as aids for the hearing impaired or wheelchairs.

 


The Art of Shaking Hands

Believe it or not, there is a right and wrong way to shake hands.

Do - - -

Keep the hand open until your hand makes contact with the other person's hand, where the web joins the thumb and forefinger.

Maintain contact for the count of two.

Make your grip firm.

Carry your Bible, purse, or briefcase in your left hand, keeping the right hand free for shaking.

After shaking hands, wash your hands before eating, or touching a baby's hand.

Don't - - -

Grip the hand around the fingers. Make sure the contact is web to web.

Cause pain, especially for an elderly person who may have arthritis.

Offer a dead fish as a handshake. Make the contact firm, not painful, and for the count of two.

Have a tissue or anything else in your hand while shaking.

Maintain excessive contact. Observe the two-count rule.

Use the left hand to cover the right hand while shaking -- unless this is a special greeting for a special person.

Don't offer your right hand if the other person's right hand is temporarily or permanently incapacitated. Be alert and offer your left hand so your left hand can meet their left hand.

Never touch a baby's hand when you're shaking hands with visitors!!! A baby's hand is frequently in the mouth. You don't want all the germs you have collected from the last several dozen hands you have shaken to be transmitted to the baby's mouth.


Visitor Registration

A practical method of visitor registration should be developed which is appropriate for the physical layout and traffic patterns of your church. However it is done, no first-time visitor should walk out your door within leaving a written record of some kind. One church our family has attended takes attendance by passing attendance pads down each pew. Each person attending is asked to print his/her name and give a phone number. During the early part of the week, the pastoral staff goes over these lists and contacts each person who is new to the constituency.


Organized Visitor follow-up

Every first-time visitor who lives within reasonable driving distance of your church should receive a follow-up within the coming week. A form letter, even when generated by a computer to include a personalized salutation, barely meets the definition of follow-up if that's all the visitor gets. A nice balance is a phone call from the pastor or a member of the staff plus a personal visit from someone who lives in the same general area as the visitor. As a general rule, visitors expect someone from the church office to contact them. However, a personal visit from a reasonably close neighbor will have maximum impact.


Organized Friendship Program

This is the most important element of your church friendship program. It's only listed fifth here because in the chronological sequence of events, the other four occur first. Of course, the operant word here is "organized". Left to their own devices, your parishioners will friendship with each other after a fashion. They will gravitate into quartets and small groups for out-of-church activities. However, a lack of structure and organization makes it difficult for the new person or family to integrate. As stated above, what everyone should do no one may end up doing. An organized friendship program is so critical because the evangelical life style carries basic prohibitions against the very activities which the nonbeliever considers to be the foundations stones of social activity: drinking in bars and dancing. Since human beings are naturally gregarious and need social interaction, the church must provide a social life which replaces what the world considers to be normal social activity. An action plan for providing organized friendship activities might include the following elements:

A. When you register visitors, get key information which will be needed in helping them fit into the social life of the church. Include such things as age range, marital status, type of employment, ages of children, and favorite leisure time activities.

B. Recruit persons and families from among your regular constituents who are interested in making new friends. Make sure you have information on these members of your friendship team which parallels that which you collect from visitors.

C. Match the interests of visitors with members of the church "friendship team."

D. Facilitate friendship activities based on the commonalties of the new people and the members of your friendship team.

This kind of a computerized friendship program is similar to commercial dating services which match persons of comparable interests.


Church Database

The following list of database fields are an example of what your database can look like. Adapt these fields to meet your own needs. The comments for various fields can help you customize your database.

Last Name: If you have both a first name and a last name field, you can sort by last name only.
First Name
Address
City, State, Zip: If your constituency covers more than one city or state, you will need separate fields for City, State, and Zip.
Phone
Occupation or School: If you include the name of schools, you can sort your children by school attended.
Date of Birth: Be aware of what the computer world is doing about the turn of the century and build your database accordingly.
Spouse
Parent(s)
Date of First Contact
Date First Attended
Date Saved
Date Member
Date Married
Salutation: You may want to address children by first name and adults in a more formal way.
SS Class
Choir
Orchestra
Vocals
Other Church Activity:
Hobbies, Special Interests: You may want to expand these last two fields to include many variables. This is how you can sort your records by commonality of interests and activities. This kind of expanded database will be needed to maintain the Inventory of Training and Experience described below.


Inventory Of Training And Experience

The best way to make persons feel welcome in your congregation is to give them something meaningful to do which draws on their experience and training. And, the best way to ask people to do things is to find out what they already know how to do. During the early 60's I ran a training class for Civil Defense emergency shelter managers. While I'm thankful none of my students needed the training I gave, I did learn an important lesson from the training. The first thing a shelter manager was to do after his/her charges had assembled in a shelter was to take a complete inventory of who knew how to do what. In the face of a real emergency, it would be extremely important to know such things as who knew something about medicine, who knew how to work with children, and who had leadership experience.

Use normal discretion in recruiting new people to work in your church.

1. Baby Christians should be weaned off the bottle of the Milk of the Word before they are involved in programs designed to help other Christians to grow.

2. Use your state or community's background check for persons who will be working with children. If your state or community has no formal background check, develop one of your own. You can't run the risk of recruiting people to work with children who have a history of posing a threat to the sexual or physical welfare of children.

3. Develop a screening process for all new church workers. Include a panel of church leaders and include some people who specialize in this kind of work in the community.

4. Include a probation period when a new person is "hired". Remember, it may be far easier to deny "permanent status" to a prospective "employee" who is less than satisfactory than to dismiss an established "employee" who is proving to be unacceptable.


Family "Safety Net"

No evangelical church would knowingly allow a person or family in need of support to go through a time of stress without offering some kind of aid. However, as a church grows larger, the chances for such a need to go unnoticed increases. Therefore, the church must organize a support network which is designed to identify persons in need and the type of assistance required. A casserole, a baby-sitter, or a custom taxi can be just what is needed to help an individual or family over a rough spot.

The key to such a safety net is organization. One large church in a metropolitan area broke the congregation down by zip codes. Each Zip code had a leader and a crew of assistants who identified needs and recruited volunteers. Help was provided exactly where it was needed with minimum effort on the part of any one individual.


Organized Age-Group Activities

Evangelicals are exhorted to "come out from among them and be ye separate". However, there is a big difference between being separate and being alone. Being separate may reduce the degree to which our spiritual sensitivities are eroded. Being alone is depressing. Therefore, the church must facilitate group activities which are both spiritually safe and socially stimulating. Children, teens, young adults, parents-- everyone can profit from getting together for fun and relaxation. Some of these group activities are spontaneous and need no organizational stimulus from the church. For those persons not included in spontaneous activities, the church must provide planning and execution through the Sunday school, youth organization, or singles ministries.


Organized Home Bible Study

The first-century Christian church didn't exist, not as a building, that is. These early Christians worshipped in each other's homes. All Christians should study the Bible in personal devotions. And certainly all should go to church. However, there's something special about getting together in each other's homes to study the Bible. Of course you'll have to encounter certain obstacles such as baby-sitting, limiting refreshments, and observing the New Testament warning about idle gossip.


New Converts Support And Training Program?

You may want to review a book I have on the Web titled First Steps: The Care and Feeding of Baby Christians. This book was first written during the early 70s while I has operating a mobile shopping mall witnessing program. However, the content is appropriate for supporting and training new converts.


Spiritual Crisis-Intervention Program

We've all seen the 9-1-1 dramatizations of what happens when there's a medical or physical crisis of some kind. Every church should have a spiritual 9-1-1 operation which is poised to spring into action at a moment's notice in a time of need. Emergency Medical Technicians spend enormous amounts of time and energy to provide the person power needed to make a 9-1-1 system operational, to sustain physical life. And the Bible calls physical life a vapor, or hay. Can we do any less to sustain the eternal soul?


These e-mail letters
from readers of this chapter sure made me think. I recommend you read about some lonely people.

My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will seek out the author of this letter and apply the Balm of Gilead to her lonely heart as well as the hearts of her husband and family. May the rest of us pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us in all our interpersonal relationships so this kind of thing doesn't happen in our churches. GEL

This must be the handbook all the churches I've attended used. People are reduced to name, address, phone numbers, 'friendship' to occasional pot luck dinners after service, a summer picnic, etc., at which older members cluster into closed groups, newcomers left sitting alone. I remember an afternoon at a picnic at which I walked over (note I walked over) several groups, stood there like a dummy a few minuets waiting for someone to notice and bring me into the 'circle, before I walked away. I spoke to exactly two people all afternoon, those two, only briefly. Beyond a few '2 count' handshakes, that is. Lots of those, their eyes already moving way to look for their next 'contact' before the 2 counts was even over! I recall several pot luck dinners that I spoke to NO ONE except those I spoke to first, and then, it was very brief.

Follow up after I joined was one phone call from a woman that seemed new at this, reminding me to be sure to some to Sunday School. Nothing in the way of interest in who I am, my life, my faith, etc. Nothing. I went there almost two years. Because no one ever talked to me, really strange, since I am very sociably and outgoing, and usually have NO trouble finding people to talk to, make friends most anywhere, was really trying, and no one knew anything about me, or my life. Since they didn't know anything about me, wasn't interested in talking to me, they supplied out of their own imaginations their OWN ideas about my 'lifestyle'. Since they never saw me with a husband, but knew I had adult children, and 'heard' I had an ex-husband, they presumed me still divorced, alone.

Since I am attractive, outgoing, friendly, they assumed me to be 'shopping the market'. When I attended EVERY service and bible study session, hung onto every word the preacher/teacher spoke, always was the first to be ready to answer his questions or make comments, I was not only 'shopping', but had set my 'sights' on HIM! Since they from time to time noticed various 18 wheelers parked in front of my home on a busy highway for a night here and there or a few days at a time they had nick named my home the area 'truck stop' with 'overnight sleeping privileges'. None had bothered to get to know me, talk to me. It's not a 'secret' that I've been married to my husband for 6 years now, OR that he's a long haul truck driver who has changed jobs a number of times, and changed trucks often within some of those jobs.

I don't go there anymore. An attempt at another didn't last long, either. This is a rural/small town community, and the vine (and I don't mean the one of Christ) runs through them all. By the third week, the noses were tilted up and the heads turning away. At that point, I had not yet learned what had been presumed, and was being told about me. And no one bothered to come to me about ANY of it.

I talk to others that are 'unchurched', I'd say 8 out of 10 have similar stories, and it is why THEY don't go to church anymore.

Churches advertise, evangelize, revivalize, to get new people INTO the churches, then how do they treat them? And of course, they sit back and shake their heads at all us that seemed to start out fine, but must not have been 'really saved' after all, because we just fizzled out, quit coming. No one from any of these churches ever came to me to ask about these things I was judged guilty of, OR to ask why I had stopped coming. I DID present to the pastor of one what had come back to me through that 'vine' that was being spread about me. He would hardly speak to me. Told me I wasn't going to cause trouble like this in HIS church!

Maybe you need to add another chapter or two to your handbook.

I'm also amazed, and find offensive, the comment in you book, that I also hear often in churches, that the standard socializing place for non believers are bars and clubs! I know many non believers, and almost NONE EVER even go to a bar! Only a very tiny percent of the population DOES! Most 'socialize' at things such as sporting events, fishing, golf, etc, or backyard barbecues, etc. Get real, folks!

I've gone back to my non churched friends. FRIENDS. Shall I underline that word? While you use 'friendship' I don't think the word 'friend' or 'friendship' appears at all in your text! No wonder. I can't imagine calling any of the ones I've met there friends, either.


Another Letter:

Churches are full of "fellowship" but, no friendship!

I have had no luck in meeting any one in church. I am married with one twelve-year old child. Most of the people in my church say they are too busy to go out for a cup of coffee or to come over for a visit.

We have been members for four years, I am planning on not going back after next Sunday. We have lived here 11 years and all 9 churches we have been to have been too busy to get to know us. I have 3 pages in my phone book with numbers of church people I have called in the last four years. In our present church, no one has ever called me or my husband or son.

I have prayed for over 10 years for a friend for myself and my husband to no avail. My son's friends are all from school.

What good is church?

End of Letters



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