Two men are shaking hands and hugging each other in a room. The other people are in the background and blurred out. One man is East Asian with black hair and tan skin. He is in an olive-coloured shirt and wearing a black watch on his left hand. The other man is a white man whose face is blocked by the Asian man's face. He has white hair and is wearing a grey shirt.
"Focus on building community," writes Question Box columnist Christopher White. (Photo by Erika Giraud on Unsplash)

Topics: July/August 2024, UCC in Focus | Opinion

My church’s new members are ruffling feathers. What should we do?

Question Box columnist Christopher White advises a reader concerned about the different expectations that come with a growing congregation

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Q: Our congregation is actually getting new people, which is fantastic. The challenge is that their expectations about church are very different from our existing congregants’ ideas, and it’s causing some ruffled feathers. Any advice on what to do? 

A: First of all, it must feel wonderful to have new people joining your community of faith. But it can pose challenges.


For instance, your existing folks are deeply steeped in church culture, and I am guessing they are an older demographic as well. They may assume that the new people will assimilate and become part of that culture. The key is to find a way for your folks to be open to being transformed by the gifts these new folks bring and for the new folks to acknowledge the gifts the existing congregants bring to the table.

One reality is that millennials — assuming that’s your new people — aren’t that interested in participating in activities that are about institutional survival. They are very interested in serving the wider community.

Another reality is that your new folks may be more diverse than your existing congregation. This calls for awareness and being open to their stories and lived experience.


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I would strongly suggest that you focus on building community throughout the year, and the best way to do that is with shared food and stories. Hold a series of potlucks after church or on Saturdays with facilitated conversations so the congregation can learn about and appreciate one another. Create some mixed focus groups whose purpose is to share their vision of what this church can look like moving forward. Help them get excited about what they can do together.

***

Rev. Christopher White is a United Church minister who lives in Hamilton. Do you have a query for Question Box? Email christopher.white143@gmail.com.

This column first appeared in Broadviews July/August 2024 issue with the title “Question Box.”


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  • says:

    Basic SOUND advice. Good luck.
    Key Listening & asking to understand- ie NO criticism.
    Theoretically we are a diverse people as a people & as a Christian church called to Love one another ie that means to me, to RESPECT one another as so basic.