HOW TO USE THIS BLOG: Since this blog covers various Ward Mission subjects, I've made it easier to find exactly what you're looking for by grouping posts together by topic. On the right side of this page (above the photo of the shaking hands), you'll find the list of topics you can click on to find the information you're looking for

Friday, June 12, 2009

Welcome Wagon

There may be some cities that still have this, but I think the popularity of the "Welcome Wagon" died down after the internet made information so available. Used to be that when you moved into a new house the "Welcome Wagon" would arrive with informational pamphlets about city services, school info, coupons for local businesses, and maybe some key chains donated by a car dealership. Basically, they would bring you information about the community.

In a previous ward, I was in the Relief Society Presidency. We were very close to a chiropractic college, so several times a year we had a large number of young families move in at the same time. In the spirit of the "Welcome Wagon", we would put together folders for new move-ins. It wasn't anything extravagant or expensive. We would copy a (fairly recent) ward phone directory, a copy of the most recent Relief Society monthly newsletter (that the secretary put together), a list of important contact phone numbers in the ward (Bishop, RS President, Missionaries, etc), a local (free) family magazine, information about the nearest temple (directions, hours, etc), and a list of local attractions (zoo, parks, museum, etc) & their hours/cost, etc. We put everything in a plain colored Pee-Chee style folder (with pockets inside) and attached a label (printed with something like, "Welcome to the ______ Ward!" Members of the Presidency would present a folder to each new Sister when they made "welcome to the ward" visits to their homes.

We made a dozen or so of these ahead of time so that we could grab a few as we needed them.

This idea could easily be adapted for a "welcome" folder for newly baptized members. You may want to coordinate with your Bishopric, RS Presidency, or EQ Presidency to organize something like this. Or you (with approval from your leaders) may want to take the project on yourself. It would be great to have folders for both new move-ins and some for newly baptized members! Newly baptized members have probably already been in the area for some time, so the contents of their folders would be different (they wouldn't need a list of local attractions, for example).

Here are some ideas of what to put inside folders for newly baptized members:
Ward list, list of important ward/stake contact phone numbers, a Gospel Principles Book (student manual for Gospel Essentials class), recent copy of Relief Society newsletter (for Sisters), current handouts/upcoming ward/stake events, pass-along cards to give to friends, maybe a welcome letter?

If you'd like to put together a "Welcome Wagon" folder to give to new move-ins and/or newly baptized members, here are a few additional suggestions:

-I would usually buy a large quantity of the colored pee-chee style folders during the early back-to-school sales (usually July). They come in basic colors (red, blue, yellow, green) and are usually around 10 cents each during the sales...they are a LOT more if you buy them any other time of year! Try to make a guess-timate of how many you will need for the year. Buying enough for the whole year when they are cheap will help to keep your costs down.

-A lot of wards/stakes don't use annual printed Stake directories anymore because the cost is high, and by time that they are printed much of the information is already out-dated, anyhow! You can easily print a current ward directory from your ward website (accessible to all church members through www.lds.org). If you print the whole directory as-is, you're going to have a lot of pages to print & copy. There is an option to print an abbreviated version, which is really all you need for a phone directory...its the same thing, except that it lists only the adults, so its a lot more compact!). You will probably will want to update your master copy several times a year, since phone numbers change frequently these days!

-Finally, I should probably mention that since you're a representative of the Church, items included in your folder should not be commercial in nature (unlike the original "Welcome Wagon"!) For example, it probably wouldn't be appropriate to include advertisements for a business (such as an AVON catalog or a coupon for $10 off pest removal services), even if its a business that you (or another ward member) is associated with. This isn't meant to be a sale pitch, and it should not be used that way. Even if its meant innocently, it will come across as inappropriate (because, frankly, it is). In our Relief Society folders, we included information about local zoos, etc, because although those are businesses, we felt that in our particular circumstances, our suggestions were generally informational in nature, instead of being sales-pitches. In general, it would probably be best to get the final approval over the contents of your "welcome" folder from your local leaders, just to be on the safe side.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

GET OUT THERE!

When we were first called as ward missionaries, my husband and I weren't given a lot of specific instruction. We were told that our main responsibilities would be friendshipping and teaching the Gospel Essentials class (not every ward missionary will teach this class, this is specific to our ward at this time. Often the class is taught by the ward mission leader or a seperately called teacher). The Church handbook of instructions says that we are supposed to find people to teach and assist the full-time missionaries in teaching, but doesn't give a lot of specifics, either. What EXACTLY were we supposed to do??? We decided that we should come up with our own ideas to make the most of our time.

One of the first ideas we came up with was simple - attend activities! What a fun "assignment" (if you can even call it that!). We haven't always been the greatest at attending every activity in the past, but since we became ward missionaries we've gone to everything we can - even activities that we would never have gone to in the past. For example, our ward had a Scout fundraiser dinner last month. We'd never been to anything like that before, but in the spirit of trying to "get out there", we bought tickets for ourselves and my parents. My parents had to back out at the last minute to go out of town, which left us with 2 extra tickets. It turned out to be a really good thing after all, because on a whim I called one of my newly assigned visiting teaching sisters and invited her and her non-member husband to join us. To my (pleasant!) surprise, they came and we had a really fun night getting to know them.

Participating in activities is a good way to get to know non-members and less-active members in a casual setting. Keep an eye out for anyone who looks uncomfortable or awkward and see what you can do to help. Even if there aren't any non-members or less-active members there, you can always use the opportunity to practice getting to know people (there are probably ward members that you don't know well because they are recent move-ins, serve in an auxillary, etc)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Have we met? PAIN FREE introductions

We moved quite a bit when I was young, so I went to a lot of different schools. To make things worse, I was painfully shy. If you've ever been new in a ward, you know a little about that awkward, unsure feeling. Even if you've been a long-time member, there's always the unknown when you're new. Maybe you're not sure where the Gospel Doctrine class meets, or what the Relief Society President's name is, or what day the Cub Scouts meet... Its unpleasant at first, but you usually pick up the details of your new ward in a short time.

Imagine, if you will, how much more awkward being "the new kid" would be as a non-member visitor, returning less-active member, or new member in your ward. If you're lucky, you're in the kind of ward where people are falling over themselves to meet newcomers and want to become lifelong friends with everyone. Unfortunately, that just isn't happening in most wards. I really don't think its ever intentional. Some people are reserved/shy. Many are so preoccupied that they don't even realize that there is a new person at church. Worst of all, many members assume that "someone else" is taking care of it. (Oh, that unreliable "someone else"...they never seem to follow through!)

I've been in a lot of wards. I've been in wards where nobody seemed to care that our family was there. It probably wasn't true, everyone probably assumed that "someone else" was greeting us, showing us around, and befriending us. One particularly large ward we briefly attended had just been created from combining two smaller wards, so most people didn't even realize that we were new to the area. Half of the ward were strangers to the other half anyhow. Everyone seemed to have friends already (from their prior ward) and for us it was an extremely lonely 9 months (and we are active members!). I remember that I burst into tears when our home teachers called us for the first time, asking for appointment to visit us. They called the week we were moving away. We could have really used some friends during the previous 9 months, but by then it was too little, too late.

So let's all resolve right now to never let that happen to another one of our brothers or sisters. Everyone should feel welcome, ESPECIALLY newcomers, who probably feel especially conspicuous and vulnerable. If you see someone you don't know, they're probably new. There is always a possibility that they aren't new, which could potentially be embarrassing. And we want to avoid embarrassing.
Imagine this scenario:
"Hi, are you new?"
"NO. I've been in the ward for 5 years. I think you're my home teacher"

Yikes. Awkward.

Well, I try to avoid awkwardness and embarrassment in general, so here is my approach to this situation. When I see someone I don't know (sitting near me in class or in the chapel, standing out in the lobby before church, sitting alone at an activity), I say something like, "Hi, I don't think we've met. My name is....." Thats step 1. After that, without fail, they always introduce themselves to me. Usually they just tell me their name and don't really offer any additional information. So I move on to step 2. I ask, "Are you a member of the ward?" which I quickly follow with "I'm fairly new in the ward, so I don't know everyone yet". This keeps things from getting awkward in pretty much every situation. If the person is new, they may be relieved to hear that you don't know everyone either. If the person is a long-time member of the ward, they won't feel embarrassed that you don't know them because you're "fairly new". If the person is less-active, they usually are quick to say so.

I used this approach a few months ago when I saw a young mother (who I'd never seen before) trying to keep her child occupied in the hallway during Sacrament meeting. When I had introduced myself and mentioned that I was new, she said, "Well, we haven't been very active lately". Its hard to know what to say to that, so I tried to change the subject slightly. In my most cheerful voice, I said something like, "I haven't been to church very much lately either because I was on bed-rest with my pregnancy. How old is your baby?".

Now, I AM "fairly new" (less than 1 year) in my current ward, so that "excuse" works fine for me right now. There are probably dozens of other reasons you could use. "I have a calling in Young Womens, so I don't know all of the adults", "We've been doing a lot of traveling, so there are a lot of new people I don't know", "I'm usually away visiting other wards for Stake Primary, so I don't get a chance to meet many people in our ward", you get the idea!

If it helps you, you can also play out several of these "Have we met?" scenarios in your head to get practice. You don't need to memorize anything, just get the general idea.

So there you have it, a painless approach to introducing yourself to a stranger in any church-related setting. I don't mean these "lines" and "excuses" as trickery at all, so please don't take it that way. I've read several books about communication and presenting yourself in a positive way. To me, these are methods aren't meant to deceive anyone, but rather to help me to be more outgoing without worrying so much about being embarrassed by saying the "wrong" thing. Its a stepping stone to help you start a conversation.

Even the simplest conversation can make the difference between a good first day in a new ward and a bad one. Don't wait for "someone else" to do it!

Who should you approach FIRST?

Every once in a while, missionary work comes up in a Sacrament meeting talk or a Sunday School lesson. Now if you're like me, the first thing you think is, "Well, I would help, but I can't think of anyone to talk to" Now, for me, that is usually true. We've moved pretty frequently, I don't work outside the home, I have a newborn baby, I homeschool, and I've never had the greatest luck in moving next to amiable neighbors. So, aside from relatives, do I know anyone in the area outside the church? Not really. Its not that I'm trying to be exclusive, its just that I'm kind of a home-body at this stage in my life.

Even if you do work outside the home, or volunteer, its not always appropriate to directly speak to people in those situations about our beliefs. Or maybe you feel uncomfortable doing so. Or maybe you've already tried and didn't receive what you'd consider a warm response! According to the Church Handbook of Instructions, one of the responsibilities of a ward missionary is finding people to teach. Seriously- don't panic! It will be okay - I've got a very, VERY EASY idea for you...

Are a visiting teacher or home teacher? I'm guessing you probably are. (If you aren't, call your RS President or EQ President RIGHT NOW and tell them that you want to be! There are never enough visiting/home teachers to go around and there are so many families that could really use a visit!). If you have a visiting/home teaching route, you're most likely assigned at least one less-active or part-member family. Am I right?

Did you know that the full-time missionaries often contact less-active members and part-member families? These members are some of the best resources for finding people to teach. Why do you suppose that is? These families are almost always a source of new investigators because they usually have non-member family members who are already somewhat familiar with the church and probably know other members. Because of their previous contact with the church, they are much more likely to be receptive to learning more or taking the next step (attending church, baptism, receiving the priesthood, temple ordinances, etc)

This same concept can work in a similar way for ward missionaries. I typically have had 2 or 3 sisters on my visiting teaching route that are less-active. For me, contacting these sisters is less intimidating than approaching a non-member neighbor or co-worker, since I know that they already have a history with the church. Their involvement may range from "hasn't been to church in 40 years because she was offended" to "wants to come to church but needs ride." At least I know (I tell myself as I'm dialing the number of a sister I don't know) they haven't requested that their name be removed from the church records, so thats a "positive"! Don't be scared to contact these less-active sisters / families. Everyone needs a friend in the church and you may be the only one who's ever been willing to reach out and try.

Everyone needs a friend. Being a friend is a really big part of missionary work. When we have something incredible in our lives, we naturally want to share that with others. Christ is the ultimate example of friendship. He is an unconditional friend to us and He invites us to follow Him. Lets follow His example - Contacting your visiting / home teaching families is a great (and easy!) way to start!