As my director, Andy, likes to say, no one goes to a meeting and complains afterwards that too many people greeted them. You just don’t hear, “That place was all right, but people just made me too welcome,” or “I’m never going back there. They are WAY too welcoming.” That just doesn’t happen.
The first few minutes of every meeting—small group or large group—are an ideal time to find new people and welcome them to the group. And as student leaders, that’s a big part of the service you do for Christ. Student leaders are community builders, and making people feel welcome is hugely important to building community.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul talked about this very subject:
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” … May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. –Rom 15:2-3, 5-7.
When you welcome people to any meeting of the body of Christ, you are glorifying God. It is an act of worship! It’s every bit as powerful as the songs you sing, the messages you listen to, the prayers you speak.
It is a powerful evangelism tool. First, they are joining an assembly of the body of Christ – so they can witness Christ in your gathering. But even more so, look what is says: “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you”—by welcoming people, you are both following in Christ’s footsteps and showing the person who Christ is!
It is very easy, however, to neglect to welcome new people. Particularly if you are a part of a large Chi Alpha ministry—it’s really easy to get caught up welcoming people you already know and just let the other leaders welcome new people. But they’re facing the same issue, and so welcoming new people rapidly falls by the wayside.
It’s important to welcome your friends. After all, even Paul said to “welcome one another”—there’s no emphasis on just new people. And it’s really easy to get caught up in talking with them. So what can you do?
Why not bring them with you?
As a student leader, you’re eager to build community. And you’re eager to raise up new leaders. You’re a discipler: you want to do more than just leave people as they are, but you want to build them up and make them disciplers, too. So memorize this phrase:
“Hey, I’m going to go greet new people. Want to come with me?”
In this way, you can greet new people without making your friends feel abandoned. It also helps take the pressure off of you to be connecting with everyone—they are just as likely to connect really solidly with your friends as they are with you. More than that, you teach your friends the value of greeting people, and how to do it themselves. And even more than all of that, you’re making it much, much easier for new people to make friends in your group—they’re not just meeting you, but they’re meeting your friends, too!
Another common thing I hear is, “But I don’t know who all the new people are!”
Well, this is a great way to get to know who is new and who isn’t.
“But what if I greet someone who isn’t new?”
You’re still building community and welcoming people! This is someone you didn’t know before, but now you do! Congratulations! And who knows how well-connected they felt? Perhaps, through greeting them, you make them feel more welcome than they had before!
“What if they’re offended I don’t know them?”
Ah, you’ve hurt someone’s feelings. That happens sometimes. It is times like this it’s important to remember that you are a servant. Don’t get offended back at them (“Why should I know you?”). If you do that, you’re not building community but breaking it.
But what if you said something like: “Oh, sorry I haven’t gotten to know you yet! Let’s fix that! Tell me about yourself.” In this way, you’re validating their feelings, and you’re showing that you’re actually interested in them as a person. And now you can move on to getting to know them and building a stronger community with them. You may have just met your best friend! I know when I was still a student, I wasn’t a very likeable person. But I’m still friends with a lot of the people who I knew back then.
“But what if they’re still mad?”
That may happen. We’re all imperfect; we’re all in the process of growing up. If they aren’t willing to forgive you and get to know you, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it right now. So you can just disengage: something like, “I’m sorry I’ve hurt you. I’ll let you be.” And then, let them be. But whenever you make eye contact with them, smile. Welcome them with your smile if they don’t want to talk to you. This will let them know that you remember them and you value them. And, eventually, they’ll probably start talking with you again.
Christ has welcomed you. Whether you eagerly accepted his invitation to get to know Him the first time or whether you rejected Him for years, Christ still welcomed you. Don’t be afraid to do the same. Rather, since we follow Christ, we are eager to do it!
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God!