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Many congregations experience—and prepare for—an influx of visitors over Christmas. A special welcome is extended to newcomers during the worship service; greeters, ushers, extroverts and introverts are on the look-out for folks they haven’t met before. Everyone works hard to ensure that a first timer's visit—or even that of a repeat guest—is jolly and bright.

Sometimes, in that rush to welcome those who are new, we forget to enfold those who used to be more familiar—like the teens, young adults and university students who used to call your church “home” but now, for a variety of reasons are rarely present. Visiting their family means attending worship together. For some, it may mean a joyous homecoming. For others, it may mean standing in that awkward no man’s land between being a member and feeling like an unnoticed guest.

A few Sundays back, I watched as Sam, a young adult at my church, demonstrated what it means to welcome such a “stranger” into our midst. When he noticed an out-of-town university student enter the building with her family, he walked right over and did the following:  

Brightened his eyes. You know, that simple gesture of raising your eyebrows along with a smile in a way that says, “You’re here and I’m glad to see you!”

Used his words. He said, “Hey, [name]’s here! Hi, [name]! It’s good to see you!”

Showed he cared. “How are things going? Tell me about what you’ve been doing.”

That’s it. Three things. No rocket science was involved but the recipient of that welcome left feeling over the moon. A sense of belonging does that to a person.

It’s almost Christmas and, if your church is like mine, chances are that there will be a few “homecomings” in your congregation. As you work to welcome first time guests, be on the lookout for those more familiar strangers in your midst, particularly those who are from a different generation that you. And do like Sam.

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