Don’t tell my brother and sister, but I really enjoy my relationships with them. One is five years older than me, and the other is eight years older. As a kid, I was not always a fan. They did a pretty good job of picking on me. This is amazing, since I was that adorable (and cute!) kid that every reasonable person loved!

When we were kids, the age difference seemed pretty big. As adults, the age difference is insignificant. Both my brother and sister live in Michigan, the same state where I was raised. We stay in regular contact, and I consider them to be great friends. I don’t get to see either of them very often. The last time was a year and a half ago at a wedding. I’m looking forward to this summer when my wife and I get to make a trip to Michigan just for fun. Our daughter is also going to be able to join us for a few days. On top of that, this is a bonus week! My sister is attending a conference in Scottsdale at the same time that I have Appointive Cabinet meetings in Phoenix. We are planning to get together twice during the week, which I’m looking forward to. I don’t like driving around the metroplex, but I’m willing to do it to see my sister!

I feel fortunate that I have many deep and loving relationships in my life. In my opinion, it’s these relationships that add so much joy to my life. As I look at these relationships, they were established in different ways. Some of them came from my blood family. These include people who have known me for my entire life, or I have known them for their entire life. What I like about my blood family is that I didn’t choose them, and they didn’t choose me. We were inserted into each other’s lives.

The vast number of my other relationships have come through the church. This week-end I heard the term “church nerd” used to refer to someone else. I recognized right away that this term also applies to me! Much of my life has (and still does) revolve around the church. It doesn’t appear to be popular to say that we love the church, but I do! This isn’t referring to the buildings, instead I’m talking about the people.

A key role of the church is to help people to deepen their relationship with God and Jesus Christ. This doesn’t happen in isolation. God brings people together to help us to strengthen one another. As an itinerant church attender, I love watching how much church families care for one another. I can see it on Sundays when I visit. Many of our churches like to have a “greeting” time early in their services. I enjoy witnessing how much joy people have as they greet each other. It is obvious that they care for one another! I have to tell you, though, that this is a lonely time in the service to be a visitor. The greetings to the visitors tend to run out before the “greeting” time is over. While others joyfully welcome each other, it is easy for the visitors to be reminded that they are not part of the family.

Part of our job as the church is to build relationships with those who are new to the church. This needs to start quickly, because we might only get one chance. What are we doing to intentionally start these relationships? Are we waiting for people to visit several times to show that they are serious about being a part of our church family, or are we letting them know right away that they are welcome to be a part of the family?

When someone visits our church, why did they come? We might want to find ways to ask this question. We will find that there isn’t just one answer. In many cases, though, they are looking for something. From my perspective, this is rarely a grand production in the worship service. Doing worship well is important, but I believe that it is even more important how we establish relationships. Who do we welcome, and how do we welcome them? Do we make it easy for people to create deep relationships? Or do we leave most of the work up to the visitors? If they come often enough, and work hard enough, we will let them into our church family?

It is unusual for me to find churches that are tracking first time visitors, and are recording how many are returning. This can be important information. Often I am being told that churches can’t get new members. Maybe part of the problem is how we establish new relationships. Is your church intentional about how you do this? Is there a plan? How many people are coming once, and then we never see them again? Are we even asking “why” when this happens?

Creating new relationships–while growing current relationships—is a great way to add joy to our lives. It’s also a great way to add joy to the lives of our churches!

Your brother on the journey, Mark

A further thought: My sister and I giggled through the whole evening tonight. Even though she is a Grandma, and I’m a Grandpa to two cats, we felt like a couple of kids. What a great evening!

 

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