Several years ago, a fellow Episcopal Priest taught me the “Three Pew Ministry.” I have found this the most effective way to empower congregational members to carry out the hospitality ministry of the church. Here is how I introduced it at the Cathedral.
“Today, we are introducing a new ministry for the Cathedral and all of you are a part of it. It is called the Three Pew Ministry, and if you help carry it out, you will help the Cathedral become much more effective in welcoming guests.
Most of you are sitting in a pew and you have a pew in front of you and one behind. These are the three pews of this ministry. When we come to the passing of the peace, I want you to turn to the people next to you, the people in front of you, and the people behind you and pass the peace to them. If you see someone you do not know, take a moment to introduce yourself to them. Use something like, I am Kevin and I am a member here. I don’t think I’ve met you before.
If you discover that the person you are meeting is a visitor, then, and this is VERY IMPORTANT, you are appointed by God, called by Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out The Three Pew Ministry. Here is what you need to do. At the end of the service:
1. Introduce the visitor to at least three other members of the Cathedral.
2. Introduce them to me or another clergy member of the staff
3. Lead them personally to the reception/coffee area
Once you have finished doing this, you are now free to visit with others. Trust me this works!” I introduced this for a month and now remind people every four to six weeks.
While teaching a group of congregational leaders in Florida, the Rector asked me to mention the Three Pew Ministry to the leaders. They loved it. Since I was preaching on Sunday, they asked me to introduce this to the whole congregation. Afterward, the Rector and I stood at the back door of the church and two couples approached the Rector. The first couple said, ‘we were visiting this morning and during the peace met Joan and Bill who were also visiting for the first time. We are now carrying out our part of the Three Pew Ministry, and we are headed for the coffee hour together.
Notice that visitors to the church who hear this is a ministry don’t mind. I have always found that they like the effort the church is making to be friendlier AND they feel that they can join right in.
Want to have a congregation that really does welcome the stranger among you? Then, practice the Three Pew Ministry. The only thing that I’ve found that does better at making people feel welcome is in the few churches where members actually invite visitors to join them for lunch after the service as their guests. Most folks, by the way, don’t accept the invitation, but they are so impressed that people asked them, they keep coming back.