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By Nathan Hagan

Aside from my brief attempt to master breakdancing in the ’80s, I have never learned how to dance. When my wife and I attend weddings where dancing is involved, I conveniently find something else I need to do in order to avoid the inevitable look she gives me hoping that I will dance with her. Although I love my wife with all my heart, I have never, ever felt comfortable dancing in any way, shape, or form. Whenever there is an opportunity to dance in public, my best move is similar to the one Saul employed on his coronation day when he hid in the luggage. To me, there is nothing more awkward than dancing in front of a crowd of people.

I think people feel similarly when they come to church hoping to connect with others and are invited to “shake the hands of the people around you,” a directive heard in churches across the country. Likely the individuals who are already connected are comfortable with shaking those hands, but those who are introverted or disconnected feel like someone asked them to step out onto the dance floor.

Making meaningful relational connections is something we all need. Since churches usually meet once or twice a week, the opportunities for those connections can (at times) feel rushed, forced, or a bit unnatural.

Making connections in church cannot be viewed in the same manner as I view dancing; we cannot simply avoid it like the plague. However, there are some alternative ways to connect that allow us to build up our comfort level. One of the best ways to connect with others is to serve with them on a project or outreach at your church. Helping at a harvest party, volunteering for a work project, or serving alongside fellow church members at a community event provides a more natural way to meet people and connect with them on a deeper level than does a quick handshake in a Sunday service.

Small groups are another ideal path for meaningful connections, but often people need an even smaller (and slower) step toward getting to know others. Service projects or volunteering allows them opportunity to become comfortable with others before having to open their hearts to them in a small group. Some people are comfortable joining a small group right away, but others need more time.

If you are a church leader looking for ways to improve the level of connection among attendees on Sundays, I recommend these strategies:

1. Cultivate “space” for connection.

Designate a place for guests to connect with and speak with a host. This is more effective than simply providing a stand where guests are left to procure informational flyers on their own. Relational connection requires a casual environment without time restraints, and although many people are heading for the exits, right after service is an ideal time to cultivate space for connecting, particularly with first-time visitors.

2. Create connection opportunities in your atrium.

The amount of time we spend strategizing about what happens in our atrium should be equal to the amount of time we spend strategizing about what happens in our worship center. We want people to connect with God in the worship center; we want them to connect with each other in the atrium. Be intentional with the connection that happens in your atrium. Free coffee may attract them there, but a friendly group of hosts will help them connect.

3. Consider re-focusing your hospitality team.

Handing out bulletins and opening doors is a great skill, but training hosts on relational skills will help improve connection. Nothing enhances relational connection more than being a good listener. Hospitality team members should not only steer people in the right direction, they should also ask guests engaging questions and listen to the responses. Too often the busyness of a Sunday morning service can cause hospitality team members to view guests like cattle to be steered rather than people with whom to connect. Listening allows us to connect.

These strategies can help visitors feel more comfortable in connecting with your church family. Perhaps they will allow your guests to enjoy that inevitable handshake with fellow parishioners.

About The Author

Nathan Hagan

Nathan Hagan, an Open Bible minister, serves as associate pastor at Turning Point Open Bible Church in Spokane, Washington. He graduated from Eugene Bible College with a degree in pastoral ministry and Gonzaga University with a master’s degree in organizational leadership. He and his wife, Candi, have three children and together enjoy showing God’s love to those in the Spokane community.