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Message of the day: welcoming is a lifestyle

Message of the day: welcoming is a lifestyle

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Message of the day: welcoming is a lifestyle

Feb. 14, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0624}

An e-Review Feature
By Erik J. Alsgaard**

FRUITLAND PARK — When visitors attend your church on a Sunday morning, do they feel welcomed? Are they greeted in the parking lot and shown exactly how to get into the church? Maybe they are escorted to a seat by an usher and introduced to other people sitting around them. Do you encourage church members to sit beside them so they aren’t alone?

Learning how to be a welcoming and hospitable congregation were the goals of the regional Igniting Ministry training event held Jan. 14 at the Life Enrichment Center (LEC) in Fruitland Park. More than 350 Florida Conference laity and clergy attended.

“You don’t wait to learn a welcoming lifestyle for when a disaster hits,” said Pam Garrison, coordinator of Igniting Ministry for the Florida Conference. “Igniting Ministry is all about empowering people in the pew to do what God is calling them, calling us, to do.”

Participants at the regional Igniting Ministry training Jan. 13 at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park practice their hospitality skills by making other participants feel welcomed. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #07-0521.

Igniting Ministry is a denominationwide media and welcoming campaign most closely associated with a series of television commercials that began airing in 2000. Using the tag line “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” the campaign has aired United Methodist commercials on national cable television networks and placed them in newspapers, billboards and even Times Square in New York. The result: today, United Methodism is more recognizable than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — the Mormons — on television.

“But TV spots alone won’t do it,” said Cathy Farmer, director of communications for the Memphis Conference of The United Methodist Church, and one of three trainers leading the session. “The ad campaign can help spark people’s interest, but we’ve got to do more.”

Doing more was what the day was all about. Participants learned that “being welcoming” was not a program, committee or job to do, but rather a lifestyle.

“We have got to really reconnect with the unchurched of the general population of this country,” said the Rev. Larry Homitsky, director of connectional ministries for the Western Pennsylvania Conference, and another trainer at the event. “Like we did in the 1700s and 1800s, we have to enable a higher portion of the population to know who we are, why we are who we are, and what we believe and what we do because of what we believe.”

The Rev. Jeffrey Oglesby, pastor of Little Chapel United Methodist Church in Ocala, brought a small group of parishioners to the training to learn more about hospitality and welcoming.

“We’re here to gain some new ideas, some new energy, to hopefully find some things that we can bring back to our church and implement,” he said. “We’re in a transformation process, and I’ve been teaching about hospitality; I think this really fits in.”

Marie Lennox agreed. At her church, Friendship United Methodist Church in Punta Gorda, members already practice some forms of welcoming, but she wanted to know more. “I’m here to get fired up for ministry,” she said. “We’re going to work on being better hostesses and welcoming people into our church.”

The training event offered resources, strategies and ideas that participants took back to their church. Role plays on welcoming visitors were practiced, “Fifty ideas for under $500” were discussed, and the difficulties in expecting congregations to change were explored. Action plans for local churches to follow were also offered that could be tailored to each congregation’s unique needs.

Test churches share their experiences

The Friday evening before the event, the three Igniting Ministry trainers spent time with 40 members from “test churches” going over the latest in resources and information. An Igniting Ministry test church is one that agrees to utilize Igniting Ministry practices and then report, on a weekly basis, how many first-time visitors attend its worship services and track its attendance numbers.

The Rev. Ralph Wrightstone is coordinator of Igniting Ministry for the North West District and pastor of a two-point charge that includes Waukeena and Mt. Lebanon United Methodist churches. He’s had experience being part of a test church.

A participant attending the regional Igniting Ministry training Jan. 13 leads the group in an Igniting Ministry cheer of the national campaign’s tag line "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors."  Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #07-0522.

“It makes you track your own progress and see how others (in the program) are doing,” he said. “We were an open house church in September, and we took the door hangers and we visited 800 homes in our neighborhood in one week. We left the door hangers and a cookbook at every home. The experience was outstanding. I got to talk to people in the neighborhood that I never knew were there.”

Tom Green has found his niche at Hernando United Methodist Church, also a test church, and fits right in with Igniting Ministry’s ideals.

“I am the permanent greeter at my church,” he said. “I open the door to almost everyone who comes in. My wife is inside, in the foyer, and we are totally greeters. We don’t hand out bulletins, we just greet people, particularly when we see new people. When we have a visitor, we make a special effort to get a member of the congregation to sit with them and help them find a seat.”

It’s people like Green, Wrightstone, Lennox and Ogelsby who give Igniting Ministry its purpose and keep people like Homitsky traveling up to 30 weeks each year to lead training events. Igniting Ministry is a critical piece for the future of the church, he said, since The United Methodist Church is about a generation and a half away from losing itself entirely.

“If you look at the demographics, the internal numbers of this organization, most of our conferences are in numerical decline,” he said. “In the Northeast Jurisdiction we’ve lost a conference equivalent every 10 years over the last 30 years. Numbers aren’t everything, but it is one of the ways to test the health of a body, in this case, the body of Christ.”

More information on Igniting Ministry is available at Churches that missed the training event may also contact Garrison at for more information.


This article relates to Igniting Ministry.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference.