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From Where I Stand: On the Outside

Have you ever stood on the outside of a building on a dark night and looked through the windows at the warmth and security of those inside? As the cold wind whipped past your face, it sent shivers through your body. 

Maybe you saw laughter erupt from those huddled around a blazing fireplace. How did you feel at that moment? Did you feel included and welcomed? I’m guessing, whether you have experienced something like this or not, you can imagine the feeling of isolation and separation simply by being outside.

Whether we realize it or not, we can easily cause similar feelings of isolation inside our communities, our workplaces, and, sadly, even our churches. Seemingly harmless moments, like walking past someone without greeting them because we’re late for Sabbath School, create a sense of invisibility and isolation.

Then there are the intentional things we do that keep people on the outside. The open stares we give when people don’t dress to our preferred standards push them into the cold. Passive-aggressive comments about the food someone brings to a potluck if it doesn’t match our dietary choices also puts up walls that isolates.

The encouraging news is that there are simple things we can put into practice that will create warm and welcoming spaces for those around us. Here are five ways to bring people into the warmth of belonging.

  1. Be Joyful: Who wants to stick around when everyone looks disappointed and unhappy? A warm smile and accepting attitude can go a long way to making someone feel good about being there. Find ways to encourage friendliness and laughter around you.
  2. Be Helpful: It feels so good when someone says, “Hi! So good to see you! Let me show you around.” That kind of introduction says, “We’re glad you’re here. We don’t want you to be lacking anything, and you matter to us.” Let people know you care about their comfort. Provide them with all the tools and resources they need to feel at home and get involved in ministry.
  3. Make Introductions: Would you stay at a picnic if you were sitting all alone? Probably not. Everyone feels less isolated when they’re introduced to other people, and they have at least one person who’s there to help or chat with them if they need it. Welcoming cultures ensure that everyone knows there is someone who is there for them.
  4. Truly See: Never underestimate the power of attention. When people don’t feel seen, they cannot feel a sense of belonging. Show genuine interest in people.
  5. Listen: Encourage feedback and ideas from visitors and members alike. Even if some ideas may not fit right away, active listening shows you welcome ongoing feedback, and you want more. This shows people they are valued for who they are and what they bring to the table.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “welcoming” with terms such as comforting, inviting, desirable, hospitable, kindly and personable. There’s much we can do to create a welcoming culture in our homes, churches and schools. 

I invite you to join me on a quest to look for people on the outside and bring them in. It’s what we’re called to do after all!

Featured in: July/August 2022


Jay Wintermeyer

North Pacific Union assistant to the president for communication and Gleaner editor

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