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By Katie Smith. Photos by Paul Bickford and Win Grant.

“First Connection” is the jazzy new moniker for the revamped membership process at First Baptist Church. My husband and I took our time joining the church—around two years. By the time we decided to take the leap, we luckily got to be in one of the first groups to go through First Connection.

callout-BLOG-luncheonIn some ways, we were expecting to need an extra cup of coffee to make it through a church history lesson mixed in with membership requirements. However, our real experience was delightfully different. First Connection is a four-part process, plus attendance at one membership luncheon (offered three times a year). All sessions are offered during the Sunday school hour and after the 11 a.m. service, conveniently.

(1) On the first and fifth Sundays of the month, prospective members can attend an “In-House Coffee” to get to know others who are also new to the church, in a casual setting, in the Adams Room. In this way, a sense of community begins.

(2) On the second Sunday of the month, prospective members have the chance to mingle with the ministers. (In our case, we skipped the mingling, and found the opportunity to corner two ministers and ask them some of the tough questions on our minds about being Baptists. The ministers handled it very gracefully.)

firstconnection13) The third Sunday was arguably my favorite — The “Tour de First Baptist.” Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine our church had so many floors, so many nooks and crannies, and so much SPACE. We toured everything from the choir room to the middle school hangout to the beautiful chapel used by our deaf congregants, and I was astounded.

(4) On the fourth Sunday, prospective members are encouraged to “Jump into the Pool” by listening to an overview of FBC’s myriad Sunday Bible study offerings. Due to the size of the church, these groups are typically arranged around age, giving people a sense of belonging in a large congregation.

firstconnection2Finally, the luncheon. Baptists love a good luncheon, and I can confirm the food was excellent. More importantly, the speakers were quite impactful. Surrounded by portraits of First Baptist pastors from the church’s rich history, we were welcomed by Sharon Brittle, learned about the history and mission of the church from Steve Booth and Lynn Turner, and heard a bit about the membership process from Louis and Linda Watts, and Hanna Zhu. These speakers did not use note cards – they spoke from their hearts. They believe in FBC, and they made us feel welcomed again into a warm and loving community.

firstconnection3The decision to join a church seems monumental to me. There are so many churches to choose from in Richmond, so many programs and offerings, so much doctrine. Therefore, the process of becoming a member of any church must be informative; more importantly, though, it must connect the visitor to the spirit of the church. When the spirit is engaged, the visitor can transition into a committed congregant, a caring volunteer, and a loving member of a community. “First Connection” touches on both – the objective aspects of our church, and the spiritual ties that bind us together and welcome others in.

The spirit of First Baptist Church is clear. FBC is essentially a diverse group of individuals who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died for our sins, and rose again, giving us the hope of eternal life. In First Connection, visitors come to understand this essential truth through the experience of community, conversation, hospitality, and teaching.

See related story: A grand tour returns to Monument and Boulevard.

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