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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Public Welcome
November 16, 2017

First, the audience that needs most to read this is probably least likely to open this email. So, if you know someone at your church that needs to see this, please forward it to them.

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35) How we welcome the visitor is a direct measure of how we welcome Jesus himself.

Historically, our sanctuary front doors were designed to maximize welcome. Church signs added to that welcome, declaring our service times, and perhaps a pithy inspirational message or Sunday’s sermon title. We wanted to be sure everyone who passed by our premises would know we were eager for them to join us. We encouraged our members to invite people to church. We posted ushers at our entry points to greet visitors and members alike. Most of us still do much of this to maintain public welcome.

But here’s the thing. Few people looking for a church these days visit a church because of what they see as they drive by it. “Brand name” means little. Location, and information on signs is interesting, but no compelling reason to visit. Visitors are much more likely to come either because of a personal invitation or because they got acquainted with the church through its website. Facebook is a good place for social networking with those already part of a congregation, but a free-standing website is a far more important portal for visitors.

If you read my posts regularly, you know this is an odd topic for me to tackle here. Why this, why now?

Last week I went to one of our church websites to check out its Sunday service time. I did so through our presbytery website’s congregational links. While there, I investigated other congregation website links and discovered that a number of our congregations have no website at all. Several of our links to congregational websites didn’t work, and we’ve fixed those as best we can. (Please let us know when your congregation’s website address changes.) I also discovered that some congregational websites were months, even years out of date.

A beautiful website crafted with cutting-edge technology is a lovely thing, but that is not what attracts visitors to your door. Timely, useful, welcoming information is what matters. This is what matters most:

Other website elements are useful, but not as critical for welcoming visitors. Such “optional” items include:

Building and maintaining a website is not rocket science, nor is it costly. Search online for “free church websites,” and you’ll be amazed at the available options. Ask a young person in your congregation who is eager to serve Jesus to take this on. Better yet, ask two or three to do it together. This is, for all intents and purposes, your congregation’s public front door today. Make it as welcoming as possible!

Public welcome matters. Jesus says, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:23) Today’s traffic flows more along digital than asphalt highways. How are we doing with that?

Your partner in welcome,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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