Like many congregations, my church struggles with how to welcome strangers into our midst. We have visitor cards and welcome badges and the greeters at every door, but we stop short of translating information into another language or specifically serving the large immigrant population in our city.
There are obstacles churches face when trying to find effective ways to welcome the stranger. During a recent discussion about immigration in an adult Sunday school class, one man stated passionately, “I don’t want this church doing anything illegal or becoming one of those churches that harbors fugitives from the law.”
While this man might have been more outspoken than most, he reflects the concerns and conflicted feelings many have about specifically reaching out to immigrants. After explaining that most immigrants are in this country legally (see sidebar), I also assured the man that U.S. law does not hold a church responsible for determining or reporting the immigration or visa status of anyone.
I suggested we simply consider ways to make our church more welcoming in general to the diverse population of our city. Here are five things any church can do:
1. Encourage members of the congregation to highlight their ethnic origin.
Make your church a place where people take pride in their heritage and share it. It’s a way to get to know one another. Next time there’s a potluck dinner, invite everyone to bring a dish that reflects their own nationality. Have each person include a place card that names the dish, country of origin along with their name. If there is time, have people briefly tell about their dish and their family story.
In your Bible study or small group, ask each person to share a story of their family and how they or their ancestors came to America.
Ask members of your congregation who speak a second language to wear a badge at church services identifying the language so visitors can feel comfortable speaking their own language. Whether the member learned the language at home or in school, it’s a nice way to highlight the diverse abilities of the congregation.
2. Partner with a refugee resettlement group in your city.
Those who come to the U.S. as refugees are often fleeing war, persecution, or other difficult circumstances requiring them to uproot the entire family and find a new home. Many churches have members of the congregation help an immigrant family get acclimated to their new culture and environment. World Relief is the primary agency working with evangelical churches but depending on your community, another agency may be helping local churches assist with resettling refugees. Here is a list of the government accredited agencies: