26 Nov Visitors to your Community are Heroes
Sound a bit extreme? Think about it.
It’s different for us. Many of us were raised in a different faith tradition before we chose to become Baha’is, so we’ve had the rather unique experience of evaluating our childhood beliefs critically and actively exploring other religious paths. Then we picked one and actually stuck with it. That’s really, really rare, both in America and abroad. We’re adventurous, but weird. Remember that.
Even for those of us in the Baha’i Community who were raised by a Baha’i family (lucky you!), it’s beaten into us to “Consort with the followers of all religions with a spirit of friendliness and fellowship”. Again, this is not a common mindset in the world we live in.
To really get a feel for how stressful it can be for visitors to your local Baha’i Community:
- Imagine attending a meeting of your local chapter of the Republican party.
- Attending a Sunday service at your local Kingdom Hall (Jehovah’s Witnesses)
- A home devotional of your local Hindu community
Probably at least one of those would feel like a pretty exotic/uncomfortable experience for most of us. It’s no different to visitors to your Baha’i Community.
Our structure is different.
- Calendar. Feasts are every 19 days, not weekly or monthly, Holy Days can seem arbitrary, and many communities schedule their Core Activities haphazardly. Kudos to you if your local Community has them weekly as opposed to bi-weekly or sporadically.
- Meetings. Devotionals could potentially have an almost infinite amount of variations, but usually it’s a small number of people over at another Baha’i’s house, where there is tea and perhaps some snacks, followed by sitting around in a circle and reading prayers. This is crazy different than the church services that most of your visitors have experienced before.
- Tithing. Visitors to churches are often expected to give an offering at some point in the service. It is a welcome surprise (but a surprise nonetheless) when they are not asked to do so at Baha’i functions.
- Greetings. “Allah-u-Abha” is a fun and meaningful greeting between Baha’is, but it sounds like a secret (and potentially creepy) password to visitors. It can make them uncomfortable.
- We’re more diverse. Our local Baha’i Communities are often more diverse than what visitors are used to. The one exception are modern evangelical community churches, who are killing us in this regard. (Don’t believe me? Google the name of your city and “church”, pick the first modern, clean website, and go to their Sunday morning service — you’ll be surprised).
- Funny names. Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, Ruhiyyih Khanum, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Nothing we can (or should) do there, but it’s good to acknowledge that this could be a bit of a veil to visitors at first.
So what can we do to make our visitors feel more welcome?
Engage and welcome your visitors
- Show hospitality. This means talking. Since we’re a smaller and generally more intimate faith community, this shouldn’t be hard, but society is training us to be withdrawn and uncommitted.
- Next Baha’i meeting, look around the room when you’re waiting for people to arrive or for the event to begin. Nine times out of ten, everyone under the age of 40 will be sitting and staring at their smartphone.
- Often, we just don’t feel as comfortable communicating with others in real life. This is understandable, but we have to come out of our shells both individually and as a Community if we want to make visitors feel warm and welcome, or indeed, if we want our Community to remain vibrant even for ourselves.
Visitors need to belong before they believe. Repeat that to yourself again.
- Honestly, this is the magic behind the idea of Core Activities.
- A loving community is a prerequisite for visitors to feel like they belong.
- When local Baha’i Communities are blessed enough to have a Baha’i Center, remember that good signage is paramount. Guests get uncomfortable when they can’t find their way around. Even at events in the homes of Baha’is, it’s often not a bad idea to have a sign pointing to the bathroom.
Make sure your local Baha’i website let’s visitors know what to expect.
- Make sure you have a “What to Expect” page or tab on your navigation bar. Let visitors know what they should wear, how long the gathering will be, and whether there are activities available for their kids.
- Put up real photos of your Community. Authenticity beats beauty on this one.
Remember, your visitors are really doing something quite brave by coming to a Baha’i activity. Reward them by offering a welcoming and warm experience. Being a hero isn’t easy, after all!