I stepped into an ice cream store recently and was ready for my favorite, a hot fudge sundae made with mint chocolate chip ice cream. However, what became so unique about the experience, was the young lady behind the counter who obviously had way more duties than one person could handle. She was the only employee with a line of people who were all placing bigger orders than just a simple two scoops on a cone. She had to take the orders, make change, wash her hands between everything wanting to make us all feel covid protected, and for every person coming through the door she gave a big “Hello”! Her non-anxious presence, smile, and hello had us all talking in line, laughing with one another, willing to wait patiently and probably even tip better.
In a season when we are coming out of covid restrictions, hoping to get people back in church, and build on our goal in the Coastal Plains Region of having 2,500 first time visitors come into our churches before Dec. 31 of this year, we need to revisit just how we welcome people into our church. The greeter and usher ministry are more than handing out bulletins and collecting the offering plate. They are the first to offer a “Hello” to someone coming through the door and can be the direct reason someone returns or does not return. So, as we think about our welcome let us use the acronym hello to remember some important things.
Help! Think about if it was your first time and would you know where to find the sanctuary, the nursery, the rest rooms, the coffee, or how things work in the service. If it was a communion Sunday, would you tell them welcome to Communion, we take communion in our seats during covid, but everyone is invited to take communion? Think how you can help before someone asks.
We Encounter! Think about how a person encounters the love and grace of Christ in your church. Do you have a devotional, a welcome pamphlet, someone ready to sit near them and not just lead them to the front where no one sits? Would someone be willing to take them out to lunch after service or invite them to a church activity?
Listen! Take the time to listen not just to the words of a visitor but listen to their body language. Are they nervous? Do they want their space? And especially important is to teach the congregation to think about what the visitor is listening to as they sit down. Is it gossip that is being overheard? Is it complaining about the church or pastor? Do they hear music or something that prepares them for worship?
Learn! Take the time to learn the name of a visitor, the names of children, and some quick facts about them like where they live, are they new in the area, how did you hear about the church. Possibly even learn about a need that the church could give some support. People want to share their lives, but the fear of rejection can be strong, so, learning (not being nosey) about someone makes them feel valued.
Others! When it comes to others, how can you introduce them to others that may share common interests, or live in the same area, or attend the same schools or stores? We gravitate to groups and people we often know but take the time to think about others and get to know them.
In these next weeks as we come into Palm Sunday and Easter, we may encounter many who will want to experience worship in person once again. And before we go around hugging and greeting those who we have deeply missed for some time, how about taking the time to plan the Hello the visitor will receive? It was the Hello that made me return for another ice cream and think about it: we have so much more to offer than ice cream.
Hello to all of you.
Glenn J. Conaway, Delaware Bay District Superintendent