Making Visitors Feel Welcome (Part 1): The Greeters

Sarah Bowler's picture

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?

  1. 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 ________.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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 _________.”
  4. 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).
  5. 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).

Comments

Lisa Goodyear's picture

Great Blog! The first impression is always the one that sticks with a person after the visit. Once we had a visitor write an e-mail and tell my husband that they were never greeted or even acknowledged at the church. They walked in and out of the church and no one even said hello. We all need to make an effort to be more relational even if it takes us out of our comfort zone. Thanks for your thoughtful blog!

Sarah Bowler's picture

Thanks, Lisa. I wonder what the best way is to motivate people (including myself)  to get out of our comfort zones.

What motivates me is that the Lord expects us to show hospitality to others.  I am naturally not as shy as most people, but there are times when it is comfortable to hide there.  I think a lot of people do run for cover when visitors are in sight.  We are the body of Christ.  We need to put on Christ and be just natural and friendly.  It shouldn't be akward. 

Some thoughts...
I'm the kind of person that prefers to visit a place with a quick hello and without the mandatory church handshake. I don't want to be asked anything. Basically it's a feeling of having hospitality practiced on me and it doesn't feel real.  I don't know how you practice and still allow for people like me.
I was asked for years if I was new. Even after my son was engaged to one of the pastors' daughters and with my habit of sitting in the exact same spot every week. I agree it is a bad question. Kind of like "when are you due?" don't ask unless you are 100% sure that you are making a correct assumption.  It only bothered me the first year or two.  
It still bothers me in smaller settings like parenting classes, bible studies, ect. when no one bothers to meet someone other than their own little clique. Churches should never ever have cliques. With large churches it is something that has to  be fought against because we are sinful humans. That said when I have heard complaints about people not being friendly I ask, "How have you reached out?"  Everyone always assumes that they are the new person. Well how long do you get to be new before you are the one ignoring the newer person?

Doesn't part of it have to do with believing that one really is the center of the universe and God's people should make you feel welcome if He wants you? That used to be my problem. I was always evaluating and judging. What if Paul had changed his mind after the Jeruselem Jews didn't welcome him with open arms?

When the introductions go around the table at bible studies it hasn't escaped my notice that many of the people have logged around the same number of years there that I have; which means we were all new around the same time. And about once a year I see someone that I know from elsewhere assuming that they have just switched to our church only to find out they have been coming for years. We just never ran into each other before. Too funny.....

Sarah Bowler's picture

You bring up some good points, Melody.  I too have felt at times that hospitatlity wasn't genuine. I wonder how much of an obvious and noticeable difference there is between a greeter who is genuine and a greeter who is not.

I joined the greeting team at my church after an awkward encounter with one of the greeters: I had recently married one of the pastor's sons, and moved from my childhood church to my husband's. One morning we rushed in to church late. We were met by an elderly greeter who scowled and shook her finger at us, and told us as PKs we should know better than to come late. Being already quite tense from an unwanted (though not unnecessary) church move, I promptly left the service in tears.
Some years later, I am on quite friendly terms with the lady in question and can take her scolding in context (the context being that nobody takes it seriously). But this kind of assessment can't be made by a visitor, and had I not just married into this church family, I would not have returned. At the time, I recall that (after a fair amount of sulking) the situation was resolved by my joining the greeting team so as to ensure that people saw a friendlier face when they arrived.

Sarah Bowler's picture

Good thoughts, Marie! I applaud you for joining the greeting team after a bad experience. If more of us did that, I bet we would see more of a difference in hospitality within churches.

I have collected church greeter zingers over the years.
Here are 20:
www.evangelismcoach.org/2012/20-crazy-church-greeter-comments/
Here is also the Top 10 Tips for Greeters:
http://www.evangelismcoach.org/2013/10-things-every-first-time-church-greeter-should-know/
 

Sarah Bowler's picture

Thanks for the feedback. I was particularly struck by some of the zingers such as "If a Walmart greeter is warmer and more authentic than ones at church, there is a problem."

I know it's important and helpful to gather contact information for visitors, but this needs to be done tactfully and kindly. Someone whom the visitor does not know is asking for personal information. Don't hand someone a fill-in-the-blank card or try to force him to give information after he's declined. Relax about it! 

Sarah Bowler's picture

You are so right! I've been debating writing a blog about how one does and doesn't gather contact information at some point in the future. We are so used to being cautious about giving out personal information these days (and rightly so) that it can be unnerving to walk into a place (such as a church) and be asked for all kinds of personal contact information.

I am now seeing the visitor connection cards with privacy statements on them.  There is a great book on Kindle for free at the moment (called Church Connection Cards).  Written by my friend, Yvon.
I did an interview with her here (MP3, free):
http://www.evangelismcoach.org/2009/how-to-get-church-visitor-contact-information/

Sarah Bowler's picture

That is helpful!  I downloaded the kindle book.

This reminds me of my family's experience moving to a new area when I was a teenager. We visited around to many different churches before settling on a church home. We spent a few months going to a huge mega-church, but found it hard to get to know people. In the end, we settled on the church that we had begun referring to as "that super-friendly church." The first Sunday we visited, we met at least five people who spoke to us both before and after the service, and had three seperate offers for lunch after (and this was with a family of 6!). My parents and sister are still attending that church 10 years later, and have developed many close friendships and meaningful relationships. Even though it was a bit overwhelming for me as an introvert to have so much "friendliness" from strangers (I always hate when churches ask first-time visitors to stand - if it's my first time, I don't want everybody staring at me!), it was nice to see a church where the members genuinely care about every person who walks through the door, visitors, regular attenders, or long-time members.  

Sarah Bowler's picture

Thanks for sharing! It makes such a big difference when churches genuinely care for their members.

Sarah, thank you for this great blog.
I think, the third point you made, suggesting introducing new people to others at church can be incredibly valuable.
Perhaps an extroverted personality will feel confident to meet people independently, but from my experience, as an introvert, I really appreciate the effort a person makes when they introduce me to others around and especially to include me in a conversation. 
Part of the difficulty in a large church is that cliques seem to form so easily .  Not wanting to blame the clique members, but, perhaps they become unaware that others, who are not in the cliques, may feel unwelcome to attempt to join in. Giving introductions and inclusive conversation would be polite and loving. 
Perhaps the people who know how hard it is when we feel left out could use that experience to go out of their comfort zones and include others in conversations where they see a need.
Motivation for me comes from the pain of exclusion I have felt in the past, and not wanting others to feel left out and especially from the words of Jesus, " love your neighbour as yourself" (Matt 22:34:40).
Praying for God's help and wisdom is, perhaps, both a responsibility and a motivation.  Reading your blog and writing this reply has alerted me to the fact that I have too often neglected my responsibility to pray regularly for opportunities to welcome and show interest in people at church.    
Praise the Lord that He will use us as individuals even if our church doesn't have a 'greeting' system.

Sarah Bowler's picture

Thanks for reading Catherine! You have some great insights. I love how you draw Matt. 22:34, 40 into the discussion to encourage us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blog and I'm impressed! Extremely useful information specially the last part

Sarah Bowler's picture

Thanks for your kind words! I am glad to hear how helpful this article has been for you.

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