This is an important time of year. It is a time filled with celebration, parties, and transition. It is a time when many people transition from one phase of life to another. It is a season in which many young people are excited, yet anxious; parents are both rejoicing and mourning; and teachers take a collective deep breath.
Yes, graduation season is upon us.
Just like many other institutions of higher education, our synodical colleges, universities and seminaries are preparing to send students into the workforce, having prepared men and women for careers in professional church work. At our seminaries, students have recently received their first divine calls to serve as pastors or deaconesses or have been assigned to their vicarage or internship congregations. At many of our other Concordia University System institutions, students are receiving divine calls to serve as commissioned ministers or are being sent on one-year internships to prepare for their future ministries. These students will soon be arriving at local congregations throughout the Synod, ready to put their years of learning and preparation to good use as they serve God’s people in our church body.
This is a critical moment in the life and ministry of any church worker—and in the life of a congregation. As the old saying goes, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” If you are in a congregation that will soon be welcoming one of these new workers, you have a tremendous opportunity to help him or her start strong in your congregation. How can you help welcome a new staff member and make his or her transition into your congregation a positive one? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Before your new worker arrives, engage in prayer for this worker and his or her family. It is easy for us to get so wrapped up in the logistics of a new staff member’s arrival that we forget this simple step. Over and over, Scripture implores us to pray for our spiritual leaders (see 1 Thessalonians 5:25 and Colossians 4:2-4 for examples), and we know that prayer bears much power—James 5:16 reminds us that “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Ask your new worker what needs you may pray for as preparation for this new season of life begins, and then continue your prayers for him or her.
When your new worker arrives, provide a great on-boarding, or training, experience. Ensure that your new worker has the tools he or she needs to be successful. Share congregational policies, systems, and norms. Clarify expectations about things like office hours, communication, and even appropriate dress for your context. Connect your worker with the leaders of various ministries, and provide a solid overview of what is happening in your congregation. Arm your new worker with the information necessary to jump in and get moving in a healthy manner.
It is vital that your new worker is visible in the congregation and community. Provide early opportunities for your worker to be in front of the congregation, as well as to connect with different groups in the congregation. Using key people, help your worker discover places and events in the life of your community. This will help your worker meet new people, build trust with congregational members, and establish credibility as someone who is there for the people—and for your community.
Find ways to help your new worker connect with congregational members. Give him or her opportunities to put names with faces, whether it is in person or by looking at a congregational photo directory. Help him or her discover people’s stories. This helps a new worker put a human face to the congregation that he or she has been reading so much about in preparation for joining the staff. It can truly help the worker feel like a part of a family, not simply another organization.
Finally, help your new worker set appropriate goals. Aid your worker in setting goals that are specific to your context, measurable, so he or she can track progress, and attainable within a specified time period. Setting healthy goals will help your new worker discover a healthy pace for ministry, uncover your congregational priorities, and see “small victories” on days when discouragement may begin to settle in.
Welcoming a new staff member is a vital step for strengthening your ministry team for the future. Helping new staff members feel welcome will result in greater enthusiasm and a deeper connection with your congregation. The first days of a new worker’s time in your congregation can make all the difference in his or her ministry. How will you spend them?
Continue the Conversation: We have mentioned only a few of the ways you can welcome a new staff member to your congregation. What recommendations do you have for a congregation who is bringing in a new worker?