Thursday, March 6, 2014
by Reba Collins
Man, I hope we aren’t asked to “pass the peace” today. With all the sickness going around, might as well call it “pass your violent germs my way.” I don’t need to get sick again. Plus, I’m not even sure why churches do that other than to force me to say “Hello” to people I don’t even know. Even then, it doesn’t seem very genuine because they all find people they do know and ignore me in the end.
From visiting all different kinds of churches I’m always mindful of our unique custom that magnifies the “awkward silence” problem in church. It’s that time when the worship leader says, “Now everyone stand up, find someone you don’t know, introduce yourself, and pass them God’s peace.”
Not only is this awkward for visitors, but it’s awkward for regular attenders too. Often, when the congregation is asked to meet someone they don’t know, I test their friendliness by purposefully not introducing myself first. After all, I know I’m a visitor, and if the congregation is small enough, I know that they know that I’m a visitor. Large or small, though, most of the time, no one volunteers their name first. On rare occasions, someone will acknowledge that they hadn’t met me, ask me a question, or seek some common ground – like the weather! I figure I’m lucky if I get a smile and a perfunctory, “Good Morning,” from at least the people seated immediately around me.
In this well-intentioned “meet and greet” custom to appear friendly and welcoming, many churches end up putting their folks in awkward situations. Unfortunately, to a church searcher, the entire experience ends up being anything but friendly.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are three simple ways to put both regulars and visitors at ease and to open up effective opportunities for conversation and connection during the meet and greet:
1. Set the stage. The “meet and greet” has become so standard that many worship leaders assume everyone knows its intent. But most people really don’t get it – at least from my experiences. Every week, the pastor or worship leader should set the stage with a specific explanation such as: “If you are a visitor this morning, we are now going to take three minutes to have everyone meet someone new. This is how we welcome one another in fellowship. For all of you who have been coming here awhile, introduce yourselves first.”
2. Make it fun. To put everyone at ease with social etiquette, find a funny way for people to greet one another. If it’s cold and flu season, let me people off the hook for shaking hands. Tell them to rub elbows, pinky wave, or fist pump instead. Get people moving by asking them to take exactly 10 steps away from their seats to find someone new, or to meet their counterparts three rows back.
3. Give them something to talk about. The most awkward time of the meet and greet is after the initial “Hello.” Give the participants a topic. Say something like, “When introducing yourself, tell your new friend where you grew up.” Other common ground topics include: number of siblings, favorite hobby, last movie watched, favorite color, number of years living in area, or favorite vacation spot. Don’t give them “churchy” topics – keep it light and comfortable for everyone.
The best visitor “meet and greets” are enhanced by casual conversation with pew partners before the service begins. Read our blog, No More Awkward Silence in the Sanctuary, to help your members eliminate the awkwardness, and to set the stage for more genuine introductions during this important time.
NEXT WEEK – 3 Questions You Don’t Ever Ask a Church Visitor
Helping your church folks find their sweet spot of hospitality is a tough target to hit for many churches. Churches that hit the mark with visitors are those that make meeting strangers as natural and comfortable as going to church with good friends. But a good visitor experience can derail just as easily when the visitor is going out the doors as when the visitor is coming through the doors.
Our next blog in this church hospitality series offers three questions you don’t want your members to ask a visitor -- EVER.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
In the past three years that I’ve visited churches around the country, I’ve been drowned in coffee, probed for details about my religious history, and invited to join a family for dinner at their home within five minutes of meeting them!
On the other end of that hospitality spectrum, I’ve also been flat-out ignored, felt like an intruder in private conversations, left to sit alone in empty sections, and left equally isolated sitting between people who occasionally talked to each other around me!
Church searchers expect churches to be full of friendly people. Church leaders should expect their members to be friendly toward church searchers, too. And since this IS “church,” expectations run high on both sides. So what is the protocol for friendliness when two complete strangers sit beside each other? Who makes the first move? Are introductions necessary? What details are off limits on a first encounter? How do you find common ground? Or is it better to pretend you’re fully engrossed in all of the fascinating information in the worship bulletin, and hope someone else fills the friendliness void?
The bottom line is that church searchers might not find your church as friendly as it advertises because your people simply aren’t very friendly in their pews.
Chances are their perceived “unfriendliness” is caused by not feeling equipped to talk with strangers. For example, your newer members might think they don’t know enough about the church to answer most visitor questions. You can increase their confidence to engage on a friendly basis by using the strategies in our Training Your Church for Visitors blog.
Often, too, I see well-intended members not wanting to put a visitor in an uncomfortable spot be labeling them as a – you know, “visitor.” Luckily you can cover that one, too. Your front-line team will feel much more at ease breaking the ice when visitors enter the building by remembering the advice in our blog, The Only Question to Ever Ask a Church Visitor.
So the only thing left as a barrier is what to say after your members make the first move – and they should – with a warm, friendly, “Hi, my name is ______.”
Your members can ease their own anxiety with this single question that leaves room for both the visitor and the member to engage at a mutually comfortable level:
“Have you been here before?”
Your visitor now feels acknowledged but in control of the conversation’s direction. Your member can anticipate one of two answers and guide the conversation toward the same conclusion. The responses to this question are always “Yes” or “No.” Neither answer, though, ends the conversation because, typically, a visitor will add context to their response, such as:
- “Yes, I’ve visited a couple of times.”
- “Yes, I visit when I’m in town.”
- “Yes, I’ve come to see my grandkids sing.”
- “No, I’m just visiting churches in the area.”
- “No, I’m new to the area and thought I’d check you out.”
- “No, I volunteered with some people from here last Saturday.”
- “No, I’m here to support my friend who’s playing music today.”
So, is there an appropriate response that leaves a visitor feeling like they’ve had a friendly exchange with a complete stranger? Absolutely.
Members can follow either a “Yes” or “No” response with, “We’re glad you are here. Enjoy your visit.” When both parties comfortably engage, members can even add, “Let me know if I can help you in any way.”
Depending on the context for the visit, the conversation might lead to other topics, but the context for either response doesn’t mean it’s full-on new member recruitment time. This is simply an opportunity to make visitors feel appreciated for their presence, so they will want to keep coming back.
Next Week – Overcoming those Awkward Introductions
A culture of hospitality extends beyond the front door into the worship space. Church searchers gauge a church’s genuine friendliness based on their interactions with people before, during, and after the worship experiences. Our next blog helps you help your members eliminate the awkwardness from the meet and greet time in worship.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
by William Cowles
You can spot her right away. She’s new here. She’s trying to act like she knows the scene, but you can tell she’s searching for where to go and what to do. You’ve never seen her before today, even though you’re at the front door every Sunday.
This is tricky space for greeters, ushers, and welcome center hosts who want to be welcoming, inviting, and hospitable to strangers. One of the biggest risks is being over-the-top friendly and smothering the visitor with so much attention that you drive them away! So, where do you draw the line? What’s acceptable to ask first-time visitors to show that you’re interested in them, but are not trying to pry into their personal lives?
It’s not that hard. Start with a genuine smile and a warm personal greeting, of course – “Good morning. I’m William, and we’re all glad you’re here today.” Then, follow with a neutral, open-ended, all-powerful question – the only question you need to ask:
“How may I help you?”
You have just put them in charge. You have given them power. You have said that their needs and interests are greater than yours.
Typically, they’ll respond in one of four ways, and here’s your follow-up in each case:
- “I’d like some more information about the church.” Take them to your Welcome Center and point out the different kinds of literature you have for them. They will find what they want; you don’t have to spoon feed them with your favorite programs. Let them find the Children’s literature, or the Mission folder, or the Music flyer.
- “I’m interested in…. (small groups, prayer, baptism, children’s programs, etc.)” Perfect. Now you have a target. Find your resident expert and introduce them. Each of your volunteer hosts (greeters, hospitality team, or whatever you call them) should be equipped to know this information, but take advantage of the opportunity to make a connection with another of your church’s leadership team whenever you can.
- “I’m looking for… (the Worship Center, children’s area, coffee, restrooms, library, a pastor). Also good because now you can be their hero and walk them to their goal. There’s nothing more impressive than a personal escort to make a stranger feel valued.
- “No thank you.” That’s a perfectly acceptable answer, and your perfectly acceptable response is, “Great. I’ll be here if you need anything. Enjoy the service.” You’ve made the appropriate offer and now you have to respect their interest in going it on their own. They haven’t rejected you; just expressed the need for a bit more time and space. Give it to them.
Front door greeters, ushers, and welcome center hosts form the front line in creating the critical first impressions of a church’s hospitable environment. The most important thing for all church hosts to realize is that visitors, guests, and church searchers will be nervous the first time they venture into your community. They are in a strange place with strange people, so do everything you can to make them feel comfortable. Put them at ease. Ask how you can best serve them. Then play it safe and listen carefully to their responses because you don’t know why they’re there, what they’re looking for, or what baggage they’ve brought with them.
When you take the initiative to create a great first-time guest experience, those visitors will know that you are most interested in knowing what you want FOR them; then they will be much more receptive to learning what you want FROM them.
Next Week – No More Awkward Silence in the Sanctuary!
Church searchers expect churches to be full of friendly people. Not only a nice front door greeter or a few helpful volunteers. They expect the people in the pews to be friendly and personable, too. So how can you guarantee that your visitors’ pew pals will be equally hospitable?
Thursday, February 13, 2014
But, what do you say after “Hello?”
Worse yet, what question can you ask that will let them know you’re interested, but not being nosy? How can you get to know them without acting too pushy? Maybe it’s better just not to say anything at all.
Church leaders, we guarantee that many of your church folks have struggled through similar self-talks when faced with meeting a “new” person at your church. It’s an uncomfortable situation that many churchy people are not prepared to handle, but it’s an important encounter they must be prepared for when you want to create a truly hospitable, welcoming environment for church visitors.
We believe strongly that good hospitality is the primary catalyst for a church searcher’s decision to return for a second visit.
Over the next several blogs, then, we are going to help you prepare your members to be active participants in your hospitality ministry. It starts with on-the-job training that is so good and so subtle, your members will pick up these three techniques without realizing it:
1. Acknowledge your visitors first and last. Before the first chord is struck; before the first prayer is offered; before the first candle is lit, welcome your visitors. When you say simply, “Good morning. Welcome to Christ’s Church. We are so glad you are visiting with us. Today we are going to …,” it puts everyone on notice that greeting visitors and making them feel included is a top priority for you, and therefore for everyone. Then, at the end of each service, invite visitors to meet you, your leadership, or some volunteers. It sounds like: “We’re so glad all of our guest visitors shared this time with us today. I’ll (we’ll) be in the east corner of the Gathering Area and I hope you’ll come by and introduce yourselves.” This sends the clear message to regulars that visitor hospitality doesn’t end when the service is finished.
2. Model good introductions. Help regular attenders learn to make the first move with a visitor. Each person who leads worship, makes announcements, reads, prays, or preaches has to show them how it’s done. For example:
- To get people to greet others warmly, each person leading a part of the service must make it a habit to say a warm, “Good morning,” “Welcome,” or even “Hey y’all.”
- To get regular attenders to introduce themselves to visitors first, every up-front person has to follow their welcome with: “I’m ______ and I am the ______ here at Christ’s Church.”
- If your church has an intentional meet and greet time, first tell the congregation what to do, and then show them how to do it by finding someone you don’t know and introducing yourself first.
Do these three simple things repeatedly in front of your attenders and they will become habits for them, too.
3. Guide visitors to a welcoming place. Think about it – everyone in your congregation has a familiar, comfortable place – but not visitors. Make an area available and name it at every service as the place where visitors can go to ask questions, get information, have some refreshment, connect with a pastor, meet members of your hospitality team, and mingle with other guests. The important thing is to make it available the entire time – before, during, and after services. And it must be tended by friendly, knowledgeable people. You want every visitor to leave their experience with you with a positive connection.
Next Week – The Only Question to Ever Ask a Church Visitor
Next Week – The Only Question to Ever Ask a Church Visitor
Some volunteer hosts overdo visitor hospitality with a slick speed-dating system. Others prefer a hands-off, cold-fish, you-can-ask-for-help-when-you-need-it approach. Neither approach creates a culture of hospitality that doesn’t feel forced to first-time visitors. In our next blog, we’ll suggest one sure-fire, easy-to-engage-with, conversation-starting question that your front-line volunteers can ask and any visitor will receive safely.