I suspect we’ve all done it. I’d spotted a new face in the crowd on Sunday morning and I made a beeline to them when the service was done. I introduced myself and asked the fatal question:

Are you visiting this morning?

The visitor’s eyes furrowed and her face flushed slightly, “I’ve been a member of this church for eighteen years!”

(Although I wanted to, I didn’t respond with, “Hmm. I’ve been here two years and I’ve never seen you before!”)

That was the last time I ever made that blunder. Since then, I’ve been using – and teaching – a three step greeting that virtually guarantees I’ll make a connection without putting my foot in my mouth.

When you “think” you’ve encountered a visitor, or at least someone you’re not sure you recognize, start with:

Hi, I’m ______. Have we met?

This leaves open the possibility that perhaps you have met, but it slipped your mind … in a polite way.

After you’ve got their name, then take the next step:

How long have you been coming here?

This keeps your guest or rarely-attending member to fill in the blank for you without having to ask the awkward “Are you a visitor?” question. If it’s their first time there, they’ll tell you. If they’ve been members there since Moses parted the sea, they’ll be sure to fill you in.

With that out of the way, it’s time to try and do some connecting – but do NOT ask, “What do you do for a living?” Instead ask:

So, what keeps you busy during the week?

This accomplishes at least two things. First, it lets them save face if they’re unemployed or have a job that they’re not particularly proud of. This is especially important in a culture where we often get our sense of self-worth based on our career. But second, and even better, this gives them the opportunity to respond with their passion rather than their job. “I coach my kid’s sports teams” or “I make quilts” or “I volunteer for Habitat.”

So, there you have it. Three introduction kinds of questions that guarantee you’ll not blunder your way through your legacy members … or anyone else!