Defence members and their families have a unique lifestyle. Service in the Navy, Army or Air Force often means that families and individuals are regularly uprooted from their communities and relocated to other parts of Australia. Relocation means having to find a new school, a new place to shop, a new doctor, a new sports club and a new church.
Belonging to a new church is not easy. Neither is it easy for the new church to welcome defence families.
So, we have compiled a list of issues for your church to consider when welcoming defence families and individuals into your church community.
Defence members and their families have transient lifestyles. For many defence families, there is no place that they truly call ‘home’. They are used to packing up house, saying farewell and starting over again.
However, each time they pack up house, say farewell and start over again, they experience a break in relationship with their existing church and community. So when a defence family comes to your church, they may well be grieving having to leave their previous church. This may colour their perceptions, and their willingness to enter into your church community. Forming new relationships means intentionally entering into new relationships that will one day have to be broken. Being committed to a new church will mean making a commitment that will also one day have to be broken. Nevertheless, defence members are human beings and are made for relationships. Belonging to a church is essential for being a disciple of Jesus.
A good church seeks to ‘present everyone mature in Christ’ (Colossians 1:28) To present someone mature in Christ means in the first instance, developing relationships. Most churches have people who are good at greeting, and inviting new people to morning tea. But developing a relationship involves a sustained effort. It means giving the newcomer space to discover your church, while at the same time creating a comfortable welcoming environment. Not only do you want a welcoming environment, but you also want to encourage people to come back to your church. So here are some DOs and DON’Ts about welcoming Defence members and their families into your church. (This is not an exhaustive list.)
Ask – ‘I haven’t met you at this service before; do you go to one of our other services?’ (Not ‘are you looking for a church?’ They will tell you they have just moved into the area.)
Ask – What are you looking for in a church? (Children’s program, Youth Group, Playgroup, Bible Study etc)
Ask – How can we help you settle into the local community? (Have you found a medical centre, dentist, childcare etc?)
Have – Attractive information brochures ready describing aspects of your church.
Do – Get contact information so that you can make further contact. (Phone number etc)
Do – Invite the defence member to a meal or activity.
Do – Introduce them to others in the Church.
Recognise – That these people may have gifts/talents that can enhance the ministry in your church.
Don’t ask – ‘Are you looking/shopping for a church?’
Don’t ask – ‘Why would you come here?’
Don’t – Run down other churches by highlighting differences.
Don’t – Reinforce the idea that there are ‘us’ (the regulars here) and those who are not ‘us’. (For example, in the offertory/collection – do not say the offertory is only for the regulars here – after all giving money is part of belonging and your inviting people to ‘give’ to God’s work in your church and beyond.)
Don’t – Do a doctrinal test or think that the person needs converting.
Some other Matters
Your Church’s Community Profile
Ask yourself – what is your Church’s Community profile. How do people know that your Church exists and is active in your Community? How do people find (or want to find) your Church? Do you have an attractive and accurate sign? Do you have a web and Facebook presence? (Many Defence families now check out the area that they are moving to via the internet.) What generational message do these forms of media convey? Does the local Family Liaison Officer at the nearest Defence Establishment know of the services you offer to the community?
Learn how to spot a new Defence Family moving into your area. Typically a Defence Housing Authority House is under nine years old. You will notice a family moving out sometime in December or early January and you will notice another family moving in typically in January. Go and introduce yourself and welcome them to the neighbourhood. Given that moving house is an exhausting activity, the gesture of taking over some Morning or Afternoon Tea will be remembered for a long time. Recognise also that in the Capital Cities, Defence Housing is spread throughout the city and is rarely ‘adjacent to’ or ‘on’ bases.
Difference in Worship Styles
Recognise that the worship style of your Church will be different from the Church previous attended by this family. Differences include but are not limited to the songs you sing, the way you say the Lord’s Prayer and the Creeds etc. Also remember that the family may still be grieving leaving their last church.
No Local Extended Family
A recent Defence Families survey found that the average distance to a Defence member’s extended family was about 600km. For many Defence families there are limited extended family support structures in the local area. (e.g. babysitting, support in an emergency)
The Big Issue
Military personnel and their families have unique needs, and their churches are in a good position to help —Think of the spouse and family, where the Defence member is being deployed for the third time. Both the spouse and children are often anxious and sometimes there is need for a heavier than normal reliance on prayer and pastoral support. This is a very different situation from the family member who is often absent on business trips.