I’m not sure that the local church I attend is declining, per se. However, it’s safe to say, however, that we’ve lost congregants over the last five years. If nothing else, it seems we’ve lost a number of members and that overall our church’s growth has stagnated. I’ve personally counted ~150 first time visitors over the last year and the sad reality is that very few of them return for a second visit. No doubt there are many dynamics that feed into the overall health of a church – of which one of them is certainly the willingness of the body to reach out and welcome the visitors. To that end, I never really understood the nature or the necessity of a greeting ministry until I was asked to lead one some time ago. In the hope of generating more interest in the greeting ministry, I was asked to write something for our church’s newsletter. What follows is my attempt to get people to get out of their all too often cloistered little cliques and open themselves up to the first-time visitors we continually see on a regular basis.
My dad’s job promotion necessitated a transfer to a new city. Having left close friends and comfortable surroundings behind, I was feeling isolated and alone. The doorbell rang about mid-morning on the day after the move. I went to investigate and saw well-worn sneakers as I was coming down the stairs. Another couple of steps and I noticed a band-aid on a knee. Another step and I recognized the outlines of a baseball glove. Suddenly, standing before me were two boys who happened to be my age and one of them says, “Hi, wanna play baseball?” I was out the door in a shot and yelled back at the house that I’d be back later.
Although I didn’t understand it at the time, this was my first introduction to the importance of “greeting”. Without realizing it, I immediately felt welcomed and accepted. Unfortunately, I’ve also experienced the harsh reality of being an “outsider”. When the Coast Guard cutters I served on pulled into port, I’d venture into town on Sunday mornings to find a local church. Walking into a church and nobody taking notice of me was depressing. Being around a bunch of “salty” Coast Guard sailors was tough enough. However, feeling rejected by those who are supposed to “love one another” literally knocked the “faith-wind” out of my sails.
Even today, it’s difficult visiting churches. In two of the four churches I visited as part of the Vision 2020 campaign a couple of years ago, nobody introduced themselves to me. Sadly, walking into a church for the first time is all too often an awkward and uncomfortable situation. Saturday Night Live skits are made of the commonality of this experience.
I was asked to lead the greeter ministry four years ago and initially said, “No, I don’t think so. The last thing I want to do is stand at a door. Should I see new people, I’d want to interact with them, show them around, get them a cup of coffee, introduce them to the pastor and otherwise help them get ‘the lay of the land’. Anyone coming in afterwards would have to open up their own door.” The response was an enthusiastic, “That’d be great! When can you start?”
Most of us here have been around long enough to identify the regular attenders. By default, then, we also recognize the “newbies”. On average, three people attend Woodcrest each week for the very first time. Sadly, only a small percentage of our visitors return the following Sunday. The whole point of the greeter ministry, then, is intentionally seeking out those visitors and ensuring that they’re warmly welcomed.
The reality is that greeting is such a relatively easy thing to do. Honestly, who can’t perform the basic greeting functions of a smile, a handshake and a pleasant “hello”? Moreover, it’s so easy to “graduate” to the next level – whether one is on the greeting team or not. Anybody can [and should!] help our visitors feel more comfortable through simple actions such as:
– Say, “Hi, I’m [name]. I don’t think we’ve met before. Are you new here?”
– Ask the visitor if they’d like a cup of coffee.
– Invite visitors to the fellowship time between services.
– Point out where the bathrooms are.
– Help escort parents with small children to the children’s area.
– If necessary, introduce visitors to any of the greeters, elders or staff members if there’s a specific question or need.
Therefore, isn’t everyone in this body of believers a greeter – not only for first time visitors but also for those regular attenders all around us whose name we don’t know? The only difference for being on the greeting team, then, is a desire to intentionally seek out the “newbies” in our midst – those visiting for the very first time. They are the greeting team’s mission field.
Finally, I would invite you to walk with any of the “official greeters” on a Sunday as we “rove” the narthex and worship area prior to the start of the service. Seeing eyes light up and faces relax as we greet our visitors is such a joy. Until you’ve seen it for yourself, you truly don’t know what you’re missing. In addition, as we greet and become more familiar with each other, we recognize needs and can use our specific gifts to help build each other up. The end-result is that we’ll ultimately becomes a stronger and more dynamic body of believers.
As such, whether as a part of the “designated greeting team” or not, are you willing, as John Wayne would have said, to “Give’m greet?”