Welcoming Newcomers To Church With Brain Cells Rather Than Taste Buds

Yesterday’s post included some thoughts on my bromance with Aaron Mansfield, pastor of Morehead UMC in Morehead, Kentucky.

It also linked to our recent podcast, which you can access at the bottom of this post as well.

A good chunk of our conversation was devoted to this question: how do you welcome newcomers to church?

Throughout the 80s and 90s, churches came up with a myriad of high touch, low threat of greeting (and hopefully retaining) first tine guests.  Strategies included:

  • A loaf of warm bread delivered to the front door of newcomers;
  • An apple pie delivered in the same way;
  • A pizza that churches would order for Monday delivery after the Sunday visit;
  • A coffee mug with church logo on it, which has the advantage of not being consumed and instead serving as an ongoing reminder of the church you’ve visited.

That last option has been Good Shepherd’s signature for the 27 years of its existence.  In fact, many of our “deliverers” would tell the startled guests, “Ok, now you’ve been mugged!”

And notice:  all those approaches appeal to the taste buds. Bread, pie, pizza, coffee … items we eat or drink.

But what if a church decided to appeal not to taste buds but to brain cells?

Well, as Aaron wrestled with the dilemma of welcoming well, he recognized that he is in a unique situation in Morehead, KY.  In his words:

Because Morehead State University is pretty much the hub of this town, it just seemed like having something a little more substantial than a coffee mug was in order. Been paying a lot of attention to those kind of systems of how you kind of develop people from your first-time guests to a committed follower and just, it felt like maybe this being a university town we should challenge them even from the beginning…. So for a little context we’ve got a population of about 7,000 with the university has got about 10,000 students and so we’ve got a lot of faculty, a lot of students. There’s a hospital here so it’s kind of professional and I thought, “How about checking out a book.” Maybe something that just kinda immediately says to people we’re biblical and we wanna delve into what the Bible has to say about our lives. So I was looking for something that would just communicate more than, “We’re glad you’re here,” because we are glad they’re here but we wanted to do a little more to help them consider the faith and then grow in it.

And, in large part because the book begins with an anecdote involving the author Flannery O’Connor, Aaron selected Head Scratchers for his gift to first time guests. 


He followed up with some more reasoning that put the book in some lofty company:

And then I’ve always liked Chuck Swindoll and so I think of his Building Blocks Of Christian Character or Living Insights, and he just seemed to have a way of taking complicated issues or things that you read in the scripture 100 times and then just give them enough of an oomph in a language that you could understand, that you could take directly to your people. I mean you could walk right out of it and you know, tell everybody one super significant thing on Sunday morning,  That vibe is how I felt with”Head Scratchers.”

So welcoming newcomers well might tickle the taste buds … but I suspect it’s more important to engage some brain cells.  That’s one reason we at Good Shepherd have begun including a copy of The Storm Before The Calm in our welcome packet.

Here’s the rest of my podcast with Aaron: