Because of my unusual life of living in three towns in two countries and being without a home church anywhere, I find that I’m becoming a bit of an expert at being a “just visiting” church attender. And the biggest conclusion I’ve come to is that no one has a training programme for “greeters”
Not to sound cranky or anything, but when a person is actually wearing a largish tag with the word “GREETER” on it, you might think they’d do more than hand out a leaflet while continuing to chat with someone wearing the same signage.
Even though I’ve come to expect this, for some reason it got to me this past Sunday. As a woman who can strike up a conversation with just about anyone anywhere and who has been affirmed in her general social skills, I have to ask – why is it so difficult to get a little welcoming small talk at church?
In a grocery store, when strangers are deciding between organic potatoes which have been air-freighted and regular ones grown locally, the words just flow. When a stranger pauses at the information table after a church service and peruses the literature, surely there should be something to chat about.
So here’s what I’m proposing. I know that people are worried about not recognising someone they’ve met before. Or asking, “Are you new here?” and finding that the person is actually a founding elder.
I say: make it church policy that anyone and everyone has permission to be wrong without embarrassment. Better not to recognise a regular than not to welcome a stranger. Shout it from the front at every service.
Here’s the script: “How long have you been coming to……….?”
If the answer is, “Twenty-five years”, then have a chuckle and ask if they’ve found a place to fit yet.
If the answer is, “I’m just visiting”, engage in small talk. Ask if there’s anything they need. Ask now they enjoyed the service. Just ask where they’re visiting from!
I’m sounding a bit cranky again and I don’t want to be. But I have to confess that after making myself as available to conversation as I possibly could and getting nothing, I drove out of the parking lot and got a whole block away before I pulled over and had a good cry.
Maybe that says more about me after a stressful week than about the church which was otherwise quite wonderful, but my experience of the past couple of years suggests there’s room for Welcome Training in 21st century churches. Maybe I should put together a Welcome Audit + Training package. I’m going to have a small google around that very subject with my second cup of coffee.