First Impressions

If the first time you met me, I vomited on your shoes, I wonder if you’d be inclined to meet me again?

If the first time you met me, I made an ill-placed joke about women football players, only to discover you are one, I wonder if you’d give me the time of day?

If the first time I met you, I was more interested in getting your contact details than I was about actually holding a conversation with you, I wonder if you’d feel happy responding to a text from me a few days later?

At my local church, a bunch of us student leaders have been chewing through how we meet and greet the new freshers of York for the first time, as and when they come and visit our church. How do we make a first impression that is true to the heart of our community in a Sunday meeting of an hour long? Is that even possible?

We've made some real mistakes in this area in the past. The awkward ice-breakers that reek of GCSE drama games, a sign-up sheet that wasn't clear enough and so enrolled a bunch of guests onto a massive social-action project the following Saturday, or that one time the preach missed the point and a group of guys who didn't know Jesus actually left disappointed we didn't talk about God more. As I say, we've had some first impression nightmares.

Today, however, something has changed.

Today is not a day where I can groan, put my head in my hands, get one of the student leaders on the phone and figure out why so-and-so still hasn't been followed-up, and how it really isn't ok with data-protection to loose that list of contacts. No, today is a new day.

Today, I have discovered that the new bloke students who visited my church on Sunday, are all booked to go for a pint on Friday night with some of our student lads. Today I have discovered a coffee meet-up is happening on campus with the girls we just met this week, arranged by one of our third years who instinctively builds community in a way that makes me pray it’s infectious. Today a post has gone out on our Facebook group alerting the students that an open-house is happening after this Sunday’s meeting, with more home-baked goods than you can shake a cupcake at. That’s hosted by a couple of second years with a vision to welcome visitors into the family from the off.

First impressions of a church community can’t be about getting it all right from kick-off, or relaying all the vital information as succinctly as possible. It just won’t happen like that. For us, our journey has lead us to having our priorities set on loving and welcoming our guests first, then simply following them up with our availability. No mass-conscription, no attempt to sell the church vision, just a lot of heart with a lot of God’s grace. And all of that basically got catalysed in an impromptu prayer meeting in my living room on Saturday night. No big strategy. Who knew?!

I wanted to write these little stories down, not to brag about my student mates. As I say, I’ve been part of as many messed-up welcoming attempts as I have helpful ones. I’m just letting you know why I’m smiling about these break-through moments because they are painfully doable, beautifully natural to the people behind them, and some simple tools you might want to copy as you meet and greet new students to your city too.

Perhaps an accidental prayer meeting in your living room is all it really takes to make a first impression that lasts?

Miriam Swanson

Global Student Mission Leader

Miriam helps equip the church for student mission internationally. She's based in the USA and hungry to see young adults follow Jesus with all of who they are. 

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