The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South American country of Ecuador is implementing a church program that looks to provide first-time church visitors with top-notch care. The “Welcoming Church” initiative, which has been offered across countries in the region for several years now, is being revamped to adapt it to the Ecuador church needs. The program focuses on four key words that in Spanish begin with the letter “A”—“Amar” (Love), “Abrazar” (Embrace), “Atender” (Care), and “Acompañar” (Walk Together).
“The ‘Welcoming Church’ initiative strives to make disciples by meeting the needs of visitors,” said Sylvia Polo, Women’s Ministries Department director in the Ecuador Mission church region, and in charge of the training. “We want them to feel welcome and happy by finding a church that puts God’s love into practice.”
How the Project Works
Polo explained the basic features of the initiative.
First, every church needs to have a welcoming team in place with members who love God above all. Only when members are connected to God, can they show His love to other people, explained church leaders. Secondly, they need to be ready to embrace every person coming to church, by greeting every member and visitor with a smile and a friendly handshake. Third, they need to make sure the needs of every visitor are met, by being ready to assist them as the opportunity arises.
“As a matter of fact, many churches have been following these first three steps for a long time,” said Polo. “We know, however, that the fourth step has to be intentional.”
The fourth step is to “walk by the person's side.” It is a step that involves caring for visitors not only when they are attending church. It includes giving them a call during the week, inviting them to get involved in some activity organized by the church or start attending a small group gathering. It also implies making sure their basic physical needs are met, and be ready to supply them if needed.
Starting earlier this year, church leaders in Ecuador have been training members across the country, reaching around 80 percent of its pastoral districts. While organized by the church’s Women’s Ministry Department, leaders have been training everyone, including the youth and children.
“If a teenager visits a church, we must connect him with someone his age,” explains Polo. “We cannot take him to sit with seniors.”
It is the reason, she says, that the whole church needs to be trained to put the “4 A’s” into practice. “Before, we were used to training and working with the welcoming team only,” said Polo. “Now is the whole church which is in charge of visitors, because while the welcoming team takes care of the first two steps, it is for the whole church to take care of the other two.”
Polo also said that one of the great benefits of this initiative is greater bonding among church members. “A divided church cannot take care of this program,” she said. “If the whole church is following the four steps, the church will unite more, feeling a common urge to preach the gospel and bring more people to Jesus.”
The Adventist Church in South America has been training church members across the region in three areas—“More Communion, More Relationships, and More Mission.” The “Welcoming Church” initiative does not ignore these three focal points, but on the contrary, it embraces them and applies them to a notion of a more welcoming church, said church leaders in Ecuador. “In fact, if we enjoy more communion with Christ, we will reflect it by loving other people,” they wrote. “If our relationships improve, we will embrace and take care of visitors; and if we are more mission-minded, we will be ready to walk together with our new friends.”
Every church taking part in the training got a “Welcoming Handbook,” and, once members began to implement it, their church received a certificate attesting that now they belong to a “Welcoming Church.”
“Churches that have completed the certification feel strengthened, as they know what to do to provide top-notch care to first-time visitors,” said Polo. “Now we are calling on those churches to keep walking by those persons.”
Polo explained that when someone attends church for the first time, it is very likely that person has a need and is thinking of meeting it by searching for God. “It is then that we must be ready to share the good news and walk together with that person, just like Jesus did,” she said.