April 13, 2017

Greeting Visitors

As we commemorate Easter in April and Mother’s Day in May we are expecting many more visitors to our churches, some returning and some new. So it is worthwhile reflecting on what our current practices are towards visitors.

Many of us acknowledge visitors at the halfway point during the service whether during the peace or at announcements where the general practice is to ask the visitors to stand and tell us who they are. In the past there has been a debate about this practice, whether we are outing people unnecessarily especially those terrified of public speaking and as a result may not return to our churches. For the itinerant member who may want to be obscure they instead get called out and is reluctant to again go through that scrutiny.

One way some churches have gotten around this perceived intrusion is to ask all visitors to stand en masse and be acknowledged, others have greeters read the visitors names so it is not necessary for the person to speak or be acknowledged if they do not desire. There is also, I believe, a cultural component to this acknowledgment. At a church we visited, my mother was highly insulted that the priest simply said we welcome all and did not personally acknowledge individuals.

Best practice suggests that we have a ministry for greeters who are at the door of the church to welcome and shepherd visitors through the service and coffee hour. They also gather contact information and share a gift that includes information about the church. They are also responsible for follow-up correspondence. Given all the committees and guilds that we have in our churches why are there so few churches with a greeting ministry? Are we really welcoming the stranger?

The best example I experienced of greeting visitors was at a non-Episcopal church in Ghana. The greeting began at the parking lot with designated parking spaces and a personal escort inside the church. Visitors were acknowledged en masse due to the size of the church. After the service we were escorted to coffee-hour with a waiter for each beautifully set table who offered us a simple repast. We introduced ourselves, the greeter gave a highlight of the church and concluded with offering an appointment with the pastor. We received a gift, shared our contact information if desired and were again escorted to our vehicles. This ministry was successful because an eager group of young adult volunteers clearly loved their church and wanted to welcome and share their joy with others.