November 2014
Sharing Our Stories

Newcomer Profiles

This article is also available in Spanish aquí.   

People making The Redeemer their faith community.

For the last two years, a regular feature of our monthly parish newsletter (Voice of The Redeemer) is the newcomer profile. The Redeemer is fortunate to be located in a community to which a significant number of young families are moving. Visitors frequent our Sunday morning church school and worship services. These profiles represent one of the many ways we facilitate newcomers’ integration into the parish.

“How did you find The Redeemer?”

“We moved here in 2009. Friends recommended The Redeemer to us even before we had moved here. We heard from other friends who had joined The Redeemer community that there were excellent church school and choir offerings, and that cinched it.”

(The Silio/Snell family, who started attending this past winter. Voice of The Redeemer October 2014 Newcomer Profile)

The newcomer profiles have become a great success story for us. The benefits this feature has brought our parish are many and varied. Chiefly, however, they help newcomers begin to feel a part of the fabric of the parish, while allowing long-time parishioners to hear the newcomers’ stories and to facilitate conversations.

“What inspired you to attend?”

“Initially our children inspired us to attend. As they began to ask increasingly interesting questions about God and the Bible based on things they were hearing on the school bus and at play dates, we realized that it was time for a more formal Christian education. Now that we are into the rhythm of attending each Sunday, we find the peaceful and contemplative time rejuvenating. It is like taking a deep, uninterrupted breath each week.”

(The Manogue family, Voice of The Redeemer, November 2013 Newcomer Profile)

Another profiles benefit: They have gone a long way toward dispelling the myth of The Redeemer as a large, Main Line, “stuffy” parish. At the same time, they inform long-time members of the parish’s healthy, evolving profile. Second- and third-generation Redeemerites are reminded that warm welcomes are still extended here, and that new neighbors have delightedly accepted the invitation for themselves and for their children.

“What would you want to tell others about The Redeemer to encourage them to come and explore our parish?”

“It seems the best way to explore a parish is to jump in and get involved in something, even if it is a small thing to start. Church becomes more than just a place to worship once you work side by side with fellow members and talk and laugh and build something together. We feel connected to this church because we have become close to so many people through making music alongside others in the choir.”

(The Wolfe family, Voice of The Redeemer, June 2014 Newcomer Profile)

It’s gratifying to me to see the profiles bearing fruit: Potential members read stories of welcome, and expect—and receive—the same experience when they arrive. Who doesn’t like to hear testimonies such as, “I’m here and this is why I REALLY like this church”?

“But,” you may be thinking, “We’re a small parish with no staff and limited resources, and this may be too much for us to take on.”

The truth is, a regular profiles feature takes a very minimal amount of time. It could easily be the project of a parishioner with basic Microsoft Word skill, or perhaps even a member of your welcoming or newcomer committees.

Here’s how we do it. The content of the upcoming monthly newsletter is discussed at regular weekly staff meetings. I solicit, from staff members and our newcomer committee, the names of people who have recently become involved in our programs, and who we see regularly worshipping with us. Many of our newcomers have young children in the church school, so our director of children’s ministries has been an invaluable asset in providing these contacts. Another way to discover potential profile subjects is to search your parish database for recent (over the last two years) entries and then provide names to staff and other parishioners for comments. Each completed newcomer profile is also added to the First Visit page on our parish website.

Once a person, couple, or family has been identified, I send a short email inviting them to participate as the subject(s) of a newcomers’ profile. Even though the responses appear as “interviews” in print, they are more of a “fill-in-the-information” exercise. I have a short Word document that lists seven brief questions. The person(s) being profiled are asked to fill in their answers when convenient, save the Word document, and return it to me, along with a photo, by a stated deadline. If they do not have a photo that can be attached to an email, I make arrangements to meet them at church to take a photo. If I need clarification on any of their answers, I do some follow-up, but that’s rarely necessary.

When we first began the newcomer profiles, I expected that I’d have to change the questions quite regularly to keep the profiles fresh; however, I’ve found that unnecessary. While the profiles responders share a certain commonality in their search for a welcoming worship community, their stories and personalities are always unique and make intriguing reading.

Which is to say, once newcomers’ profiles are up and running, there’s very little to do to keep it up and running.

Give it a try. I have never extended the invitation to be profiled and received a rejection. People are more than happy to share their stories and, after all, that’s what it’s all about.

[Editor’s note: If you are an editor, you know that sometimes an expected article falls through. This happened to Ken with the March 2013 issue of “Voice of the Redeemer.” When both his scheduled parish profile and newcomer profile requested extensions, it meant two story holes for that issue. Click here, then scroll down to page A7 to see Ken’s Plan B….]

Try This

Sharing our member’s stories with each other is a way to build community. The process Ken uses can be easily adapted to share stories of long time members as well as newcomers, by changing some of the questions, such as asking members about their parish activities or leadership roles.

  1. Think about how and where you will share the newcomer and/or parishioner profiles (i.e. newsletter, website, ???)
  2. Think about a realistic frequency for these profiles (ex. monthly, quarterly, ???)
  3. With the rest of your leadership team, identify potential people to invite to share their story.
  4. Develop a short list of questions – perhaps one for newer members and another for longer term members.
  5. Invite people to participate, letting them know how and where this information will be used, and providing a timeframe for responding to the questionnaire.
  6. Review responses, editing and/or asking clarifying questions as needed.
  7. Publish in your newsletter, website, or both.
Ken Garner is director of communications and stewardship at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. He is also a member of Episcopal Communicators.


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Newcomer Profile Questionnaire

This article is part of the November 2014 Vestry Papers issue on Sharing Our Stories