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This week is our annual “School of Orientation” for new pastors in the Baptist General Conference of Canada.  Thirty-two folk are travelling to Edmonton for sake of learning about what it means to be part of our group.  We emphasize matters like our affirmation of faith, our pastoral code of ethics, our structure, our history, our personnel, our targets and our expectations.  Besides all those matters though we really emphasize the “relationships” of being part of our BGCC.   Like an operating system, relationships are the key to keeping our movement humming.

The numbers involved in the BGC of Canada are not so huge that we can’t function like a big small family.  Some personalities are more abounding than others so obviously they are better known.  Some are shy and less outspoken but nonetheless they too are important.  The district leaders have a roster of churches to tend and practise a personal touch that speaks more of friendship and concern than it does of production and performance.  The trick is getting to know “who’s who” and “who do you call” when you need something.

A concern of mine is that this dynamic might flounder as we move into the 21st century.  Busy schedules make relationship building activities difficult to participate in or at least lower on the priority list.  Technology is supposed to put us more in touch with others but surprisingly has actually helped us to get out of touch.  We talk of having “conversations” but we struggle to have meaningful personal conversations. We are doing more but getting less done—at least in the field of relationships.

Interestingly, a similar case could be made for people who are new to a congregation.  How are they “oriented” into the new surroundings of their local church?  Some come with instant on ramps because they marry a long term attendee, or they are invited by friends to enter in, or they may even be extremely gregarious to the point that they can simply “enter”.  But most aren’t.  So, orientation is a good word for them.  How do they find out about the history of this place, the structures, the personnel, the ministries, the expectations?  The opposite of orientation is “disorientation” and many can relate better to the second word than the first.  It seems to me that a smart church would figure a way of helping newcomers become oriented to their local church.

And on a deeper level, I would hazard that the orientation for most people is in the finding and establishing of relationships.  The new person wants to know that he or she (or they) can connect with these people already in the congregation.    Are these people the kind of people that will go try to connect with me?  How do I connect with these people?

And while I am on a roll, be aware that orientation isn’t just for new people coming in, it’s for existing people already in…we need to learn to orient ourselves to a new reality.  Every newcomer is like a new drop of chemistry being put into our container.  The chemistry will shift ever so slightly.  A grain of salt affects the coffee differently than a drop of milk.

I think a smart church thinks about these things and takes steps to handle them.