Developing and maintaining ‘warm contacts’
Every week the Church in Wales involved in leading hundreds of funerals, weddings and baptisms.
Each of these services often attracts a large numbers of attendees, albeit we don’t really know the exact total. Congregations at these events are often getting larger as families and friends scatter, and opportunities to come together become more important, so although we don’t have the exact figures we are talking many thousands of people across the Church in Wales every week.
There will be many in these numbers who are attending more than one service: those in the 18 – 40 age group are particularly likely to be at weddings and baptisms, whereas a lot of older people may be finding themselves at funerals all too often. In some of our rural communities many clergy will have contact with over half the population through the occasional offices, or life events, making these occasions important and significant.
The vicar of an idyllic rural church, where there are a large number of weddings, said: “I don’t know if the hundred wedding guests are in church for the first time in their lives, perhaps the only time, so I need them to have the best possible experience they can.”
Wider contacts are all too easily dismissed because ‘we never see them again’, and have no idea where any person might be on their personal or faith journey. What we do know is that a negative experience of being a guest in a church service which marks a life event makes it really hard the next time we try to share the good news of Jesus Christ. So it makes sense to be welcoming, share a relevant message and include them as much as possible.
One of the best ways of involving the wider congregation is to involve them in prayer.
One of the best ways of involving the wider congregation is to involve them in prayer. There are several creative ways of doing this such as handing out one of the prayer bookmarks available from the Print Hub for funerals and for christenings. There are cards that can be given to wedding guests too.
Warm contacts are those who are the heart of every occasional service. These are the people who have chosen to ask us for help at a key moment in their life. In our contemporary culture no-one needs to feel they have to involve the church when they marry, when they welcome a child into their family or when someone they love dies, but many, many people still choose to give us a call.
We then have an amazing opportunity to be in touch with those at the heart of the service. For weddings that is two people; at a funeral it might be 10 or it might be one, but a good average is 3 people who are involved in the organising of the service; and for the baptism of a child we have warm contact with 6 people: a child, usually two parents, and at least 3 godparents.
This means that through these occasions the Church in Wales has contact with thousands and thousands of people each year. That’s such a big number it needs some scaling down.
One vicar took this formula and looked at the numbers of occasional offices over the past year in her parish. She worked out that in 2015 she had had warm contact with around 442 people. She then challenged herself and her congregation to see between 1 and 5% returning to church, which would mean between 5 and 25 new people a year!
Praying for funerals, baptisms and weddings suddenly gains a new focus and offering a warm welcome, building relationship, and maintaining good follow up become real tools to make a difference.
Very often we will not know what happens to those we meet, whether wider or warm contacts. They may have gone to light a candle in a cathedral or a small church when on holiday; years may go by until the next occasion triggers big feelings, big questions, big thoughts. But we are touching many lives every week, sowing seeds of the good news of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ, and known in love, hope and grace in life’s big moments.
As the Church in Wales, we have the privilege of meeting people and journeying with them, locally and nationally, in prayer and in person. Let’s recognise and value all whom we meet.