SPOTLIGHT: A Small Change Can Make a Big Difference
Super Saturday Workshop Inspired a Westborough Church to Create a More Welcoming Bulletin
The Congregational Church of Westborough, UCC, always sends several folks to Super Saturday (the Conference-sponsored skill-building and networking event) because they consider it to be a wonderful day of training and growth filled with inspirational speakers and all kinds of great workshops.
At last year’s Super Saturday, Pastor Paul Sangree attended a workshop led by Alex Shea Will, Associate Pastor at South Church in Andover, on being a more welcoming church. The workshop inspired the Westborough church to change the look of their bulletin, which Sangree believes probably had something to do with the many new people joining and participating in the church starting last fall.
“Following the example of South Church, we added a section on the first page called ‘Some Notes to Help You Feel at Ease this Morning,’” said Sangree. “We wrote things like:
‘There are no assigned seats; sit where you feel most comfortable.’….
‘We celebrate the noises of small children; they remind us that we're alive!’…
‘We sing with joy and Spirit, without fear of judgment.’… and
‘We share our prayers vulnerably, and hold them with care.’
“We have noticed that we have had a higher number of new people come back and get involved with the church than before we made the change,’ continued Sangree. “I can't say for certain that this small change is this main reason for increased attendance, but I would guess that it has indeed made a difference.”
During the session, Shea Will and the Andover church’s Welcome Team leader, Laura Jordan, explained that the success of any initiative aimed at inviting and retaining new disciples depends upon a church’s embracing a theology of welcome. The two shared the various ways South Church has attempted to live into that theology. This included practical suggestions around websites, signage, bulletins, and face-to-face conversations, among other topics.
“Before you even speak to a new visitor, your church has already given them a thousand clues about whether they are welcome or not,” said Shea Will. “What does your website convey? Did they struggle to find an unlocked door? How did your pastor welcome the congregation from the pulpit? Extravagant welcome is a church-wide, ever-evolving spiritual practice that every UCC church should be actively engaged in.”
"As people of faith, we are called to offer hospitality as an extension of God's love for us,” said Rev. Dana Allen Walsh, Senior Pastor at South Church. “In the story of the prodigal son, we see an extravagant welcome, a love that runs out to meet us before a word is even spoken. Might we imagine offering such a welcome to the seeker and the skeptic, before they even cross our threshold?”
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