It would be easy to come up with a list of 10 issues for church greeters. Some church gurus even offer them as a free download to join their mailing list! But my experience and observation is that four crucial issues are often neglected.
1. Start with Greeters in the Parking Lot (or doors), and End with Greeters in the Sanctuary. Larger churches – or churches with a confusing campus layout – need to have clear signage and greeters in the parking lot. Greeters can give direction and answer questions.
I had a positive experience at one church where the parking lot greeter heartily said good morning and mentioned the message series theme. They smiled and they were upbeat and genuine.
That was it. No questions, no other commentary.
I felt welcomed, I found it interesting to hear the message theme, and I knew I could ask questions if I wanted to. But I did not feel invaded, and that is a very good thing.
If you are a smaller church, you may want to have greeters near entrance doors. To have them in the parking lot of a small church may feel silly. They can fulfill the same function as parking lot greeters. They should stand inside, offer a kind greeting, and simply be available. If someone has a question, they will ask.
When people visit a church they usually don’t know anyone and they sit alone. A sensitive greeter in the sanctuary or worship center can be strategic. As Thom Rainer points out, the worship center is often the place where no one says anything to a new comer. Small and medium sized churches have an advantage here. A person familiar with the church’s members can recognize new comers. Greeting them in the sanctuary can be a great opportunity.
But let the new comer take the lead.
After saying hello and asking if they have any questions, let them determine if the conversation continues. Be sensitive if they want the conversation to go further. If they do, wonderful! If not, kindly give them space.
2. To Shake or Not to Shake, that is the Question.
Should you shake someone’s hand as you greet them? Probably not. My rule of thumb is this:
You do not want to start with a hand shake, but you may want to end with one.
Many visitors value anonymity when they first come. Also, Christians often like being warmly greeted (What a loving church!), while those not yet Christians may feel awkward. They don’t know what is going on, and they would prefer to hang out awhile without feeling social pressure.
Yet there are those times when you have a great interchange. After such a conversation, it is appropriate to end with a handshake. Saying, “It was great to meet you” and finish with a handshake is a good way to end a positive personal encounter.
3. To Greet or Not to Greet in the Worship Service, that is the Second Question.
As part of a scheduled evaluation of the worship service, James Emory White once asked his staff what they thought of the “Greeting Time.” Without exception, none of them like it. Some hated it! This led to asking others, and the feedback was strong that people across the board did not like it. Many found it forced. Some said, “Why am I supposed to be friendly and act like a friend to someone I may never talk to again in my life?” Indeed, it can seem inauthentic.
This may have been because White pastors a mega-church where many are strangers. But it is a question worth asking in any church. Find out what your people really think about it. By all means, welcome people from the platform. But think twice about “greeting strangers” in worship.
4. Articulate a Clear Vision that Effective Greeters are the Front Lines of Hospitality, Assimilation, and Evangelism. Hospitality is important in the Scriptures. (Romans 12:13) At the end of the day, all evangelism is relational, and hospitality is foundational to it. Greeter ministry is critical to having a hospitable church.
Do your greeters believe that God sent new people through the doors of the church?
Do they know that some of those people will come to saving faith in Christ?
Do they grasp that first impressions can determine if visitors come back – and perhaps hear the gospel again?
Tell the stories of those who came to faith because of a positive first impression of the church.
Many other things are important and deserve attention: a hospitality/info center; trained ushers; a service where “in-group” language is explained; good visitor or new comer cards; and follow-up. Yet these four things are often neglected.
Start in the parking lot; end in the sanctuary; be authentic and available; and remember: an effective greeter ministry may be the first step on the journey to faith. It matters.