It was a rather awkward moment. “Is this your first time here?” asked the greeter. “Um… no. We’ve been coming for about a year, “ I muttered. A few steps later another greeter smiled and handed me a bulletin. “Well at least he smiled,” I thought, “Even though he still doesn’t know my name.”
I’ve visited more than my fair share of churches, and truthfully I admit that sometimes the most awkward parts of a visit are with the greeters. It’s unfortunate; yet, for some reason we who long to relate to others are often at a loss when it comes to doing so.
I often wonder why we aren’t more intentional, or why we spend so little time training volunteer greeters. The art of making others feel welcomed is about more than getting a few people to volunteer to hand out bulletins each Sunday.
First impressions are not just important; they are crucial, especially when it comes to first time visitors. One Christian author writes that a person decides within the first 3–8 minutes whether they will return.
How can we make the people in our church feel welcomed?
- Avoid questions like “Are you new?” or “Is this your first Sunday?” If you are not new, then things get rather awkward. If you are new, you probably don’t want to feel like the spotlight is on you or that you stick out like a sore thumb. Instead, say, “Hi! I don’t believe I’ve met you yet. My name is ________.”
- If you find out that someone you are talking to is new (which will usually reveal itself early in the conversation), personally escort them and their children to each class. Don’t just tell them where to go; show them.
- If at all possible, introduce new people to others. For example, if you are showing a new child to a classroom, introduce him or her to another child you know in the classroom. You might say, “I’d like you to meet my special friend Elizabeth. She is in your class this hour and _________.”
- Make an intentional effort to remember people’s names. Some of us come by this easier than others, but for those of who struggle there are techniques to improve our recall. For example, say someone’s name several times in the course of your first conversation. The more times you say a name the more likely you are to remember it. (For more Tips see: How to Remember a Person's Name or Seven Ways to Remember Any Name).
- As visitors are leaving, make sure to smile and thank them for coming. You might ask them how they enjoyed the service, or go the extra mile and ask them to join you for lunch. My parents visited a church while on vacation and raved for weeks about how they were taken out to lunch after the service by one of the elders.
Developing relationships isn’t always easy, but it is worth it!
(Also, check out "Making Visitors Feel Welcome (Part 2)" and "Making Visitors Feel Welcome (Part 3)" or read more from Sarah Bowler over at sarahbowler.com).