When it comes to first-time visitors, you may be surprised to learn that perhaps the most influential person your guests will meet isn’t your worship leader. It’s not the choir director, Christian education leader, or the board chair. It’s not even your pastor. Believe it or not, probably the most influential person your first-timers meet is your church greeter.
The church greeter is typically the first member of your church that a visitor meets. To your guest, the greeter is the “face” of the church, the prime representative, and has the enviable opportunity to personally mold your visitors’ first and possibly most lasting impression. That means you want to give your greeters the best tools and training you can. To that end, here are four ways your greeters can help your guests feel really welcome.
This should be a “duh,” but I have to admit that it seems like a big welcoming smile has become a lost art. When I was a church planter, we instructed our greeters that they needed to smile… with teeth. I’d amend that today to add smile with teeth and your eyes. And don’t just smile when someone gets near or when you greet them. If your greeter isn’t genuinely happy when they see someone getting out of their car to come to worship – if it doesn’t bring an instant smile to their face – then help that member find a job in the offering-counting department (an important, but behind the scenes, job).
It’s amazing how this simple rule of the greeters is so quickly dismissed by churches. But look at the image set below. The church’s front door on the left screams “Closed” whereas the image on the right says, “Welcome!”When a greeter stands outside of the front doors it communicates volumes. For one, it makes it obvious which is the way into the church – even if it’s not the front door! But beyond that, a warm smiling face outside the church doors says that you’re expecting guests, and you’ve rolled out the welcome mat.
Say More than “Good Morning”
Let’s be honest, most of the time when a Walmart greeter says “good morning,” we don’t get all warm and fuzzy on the inside (unless of course it’s your mom who’s the Walmart greeter!). In fact, by the time we get past the vitamin section, most of us would have a hard time recalling that we’d been greeted, let alone remembering anything about the greeter. The same goes for your church greeter. If all they do is hold the door and say “good morning,” you’ll not be making a lasting positive first impression. So, what do you say?
When a guest, or anyone you don’t know, approaches the steps, beam your biggest smile, step forward, and say, “Good morning! I’m ________.” Then stick your hand out for a welcome handshake. It helps immensely if you’re wearing a greeter badge with your name on it in a font big enough that a visitor can easily read it … because they’re probably going to forget your name within two seconds of your greeting and if your name is on the badge they’ll be relieved to know they don’t have to feel silly that they’ve forgotten already.
–Ask Good Questions
If your church gets lots of visitors, you’ll need extra greeters to make this next step happen. But in most churches, greeters can take the time to have a brief conversation with a first-time guest to help them feel especially welcome. What’s a good question? Here’s the complete set of conversation starters we recommend using with a guest or anyone else that you’ve not met formally:
“Good morning! I’m _____. I don’t believe we’ve met.”
This typically elicits the guest’s name. And now for the questions:
“How long have you been coming here?” This is much better than the old standby “Is this your first time here?” only to discover that they were baptized in the church and have been a member for over fifty years – they’ve just missed a couple of Sundays (like, 45 years worth!). In any event, the question is a great way to find out if you’ve encountered a first-time guest or a life-long member.
“So, what keeps you busy during the week?” Guest answers to this question tend to go two ways. First, you may find out what career path they’ve chosen – and the question has the advantage of being non-threatening to those who are struggling to find work. The second way the answer may go is that they’ll share where their passion is. “I’m a manager at Bart’s, but I spend the rest of my time coaching my kid’s soccer team.” You get bonus points if you remember later that Ted (or whomever) is a soccer coach too and you make an effort to connect with Ted. Either way, you’ll have something to chat about for a few moments before you escort them inside and hand them off to the folks at the Welcome and Information Center or to the Ushers who will find them the best seat in the house.
Okay, this tip is really for returning guests, but the initial practice of remembering someone’s name has to start with the first time you meet. Although pretty much everyone I know says, “I’m good with faces, but bad with names,” the fact is we could be a lot better at remembering names if we’d make an honest attempt. The Harvard Business Review offers these suggestions for remembering names:
- Get it right the first time. If you’re introduced to someone and don’t catch her name right away, ask her to say it again. If it’s a name you don’t recognize, ask about its origin or how it’s spelled.
- Use it right away. “It’s nice to meet you, John.” Don’t overdo it, but try to work the name into the conversation a few times as you start talking.
- Ask for a business card. Don’t just stick it in your pocket. Take a look at it and comment on the logo or something else while you focus on the name.
- Connect the name to something familiar. This will help you remember it later.
Adapted from How to Remember a Name, by Diane Darling.
These four practices will help your greeters make a great impression on your first-time visitors. What happens after that is a topic for another day.
Question: Ever been on the receiving end of a greeter failure? A greater greeter? Share your experience in the Comments section below.