"The ultimate goal of the Christian community is to help people build a relationship with God, with others, and with the church. The first step is to say welcome."
We Need To Stop Twisting Ourselves Into Knots about Evangelism
We’re making evangelism too hard and scary! Evangelism is the act of sharing the Gospel – the Good News of Christ – in word and community. For many of us, our experience of Christian community begins in church on Sunday morning. And the first people a newcomer or guest meets are... get ready... evangelists! Who are these welcoming evangelists? Well, greeters, of course.
To a church visitor’s eyes, the most important moments are when they arrive before the service and just after the service ends. Why is that? What are visitors looking for? They’re looking to see if your church might be a good fit for them. Summer can be a high season for church visiting, so don’t let down on your welcoming and hospitality.
Greeting AND Welcoming AND Connecting
While many people are wary of being a church greeter or speaking to people they don’t know, we need to give people the tools to be welcoming. Being welcoming is an act of hospitality. Welcoming people into the church service is like welcoming guests to a dinner party. The host goes to the door to welcome guests; we should do the same at church. The host introduces guests to others; we should do the same at church. The host looks for connections in guests' lives; we should do the same at church.
The crucial first step is the welcome, whether at a worship service, a summer picnic, a concert, or other church event. But an authentic welcome is more than just a warm hello. The ultimate goal of the Christian community is to help people build a relationship with God, with others, and with the church. So welcome people as you’d like to be welcomed! In this way, evangelism starts with the good manners of hospitality that our parents taught us.
Try It Out - Tips for the Opening Conversation
Here are three scenarios of greeting and speaking to visitors. We’ll call this practice church "St. Mark’s." Notice that all of the greeters' questions and responses are "I" statements.
Begin by extending your hand and introducing yourself. Smile. Say: "Good morning. Welcome to St. Mark’s. I’m Carolyn Chilton. I don’t think we’ve met before.” (DO NOT SAY: "Are you new?")
• If they say: "I’ve been here 40 years.” – what should you do? Apologize and agree…”I’m so sorry. I feel silly, but it’s nice to meet you at last!” (Humor is a great healer!)
• If they say: “No, this is our 3rd visit.” – what should you do? Say, “Welcome! I’m so glad you’ve come back. My name is Carolyn Chilton.” Then ask them their names. Tell them why you love St. Mark’s. Try to learn a bit about them so you can make connections and introductions to others. Ask if they’re new to your town or what brought them to St. Mark's that morning. Do they live nearby? Offer to answer questions about your church.
• If they say: “No, this is our first time here.” – what should you do? Say, “Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here with us today. My name is Carolyn Chilton.” Ask them their names. Try to learn a bit about them so you can make connections. How did you find us? Are you new to this town? Can I help you find anything in the building? Would you like to sit with me this morning? Introduce them to others. If you have a guest book, ask them to sign it.
General Tips for Church Greeters
- Invite families to be greeters together. Children are natural evangelists. And nothing says "Welcome!" better to a family with children than a family with children greeting them.
- Know important locations. Greeters are most commonly asked “Where is the bathroom?” and “Where is the nursery?” As a greeter, make sure you know how to answer!
- Find the right tone. Just as we can under-greet, we can also over-greet. When greeting, try to gauge your guest's level of interest and adjust your welcome to it.
- Do not ignore children or teenagers. As a greeter, ask them – particularly teenagers – for their name. If you can, bend down to a child’s level. Introduce them to others of the same age. Introduce them to those responsible for your children and teen programs.
- Help make coffee hour fun, not stressful. As a greeter, offer to go with guests to coffee hour or fellowship time.
- Connect with leaders. If you have greeted a new person, after the service tell your clergy or staff about the people you met and pass on names and other information.
- Finally, NOTICE, NOTICE, NOTICE. This is perhaps the most important tip for any greeter: Notice who is standing alone. Notice who looks confused or lost. Notice people you don’t know. And then...SPEAK TO THEM. It's a welcome, an invitation, it's... evangelism.
Carolyn Moomaw Chilton writes and blogs as a spiritual discipline and an invitation to conversation with others. You can follow her on Twitter @episcoevangel and Facebook as EpiscopalEvangelist. She is currently on staff at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia as the Assistant for Evangelism and Stewardship.