FIRST-PERSON: When 'hello' is not enough
PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP) -- Your God is awesome. Your church is wonderful. Yet some of the guests who visit your church don't return. No true connection was made.
A parking lot greeter in our church expressed that concern: "We've got to figure out how to actually connect every guest with another person. Our polite hellos or glad-you-cames just aren't adequate."
Why not challenge every member of your church to use these tips to connect with guests:
1) Make a personal commitment to intentionally "connect" with one guest every Sunday. Ask God to make you aware of visitors. Be diligently alert -- in the parking lot, foyer, nursery, hallway, worship service -- to notice them. If you accidentally welcome someone who isn't a guest, no problem -- you've found a new friend.
2) Once you've met a newcomer, pray for God's guidance. Smile, greet the guest warmly and introduce yourself. Pay careful attention to the person's name. Repeat it. Write it down. You will want to speak his or her name the next time you see each other.
3) Chat casually and purposefully. You may ask, "Is this your first time to worship here?" Ask nonintrusive questions such as, "Did you just move to town?" or "What brought you to church today?" Warning: Never ask, "Are you a native here?" That reeks of cliquism that can leave guests feeling they aren't welcome unless they're from your town.
4) As you chat, listen carefully to find things you have in common. Most importantly, offer friendship. Make a plan to get together during the week. For example: Invite them to join you for lunch, meet for coffee or be your guest at an upcoming church event.
5) Give guests your email or phone number and ask for their contact info. Call them Tuesday to remind them of the kids' Wednesday program or on Saturday to say, "I hope you come back again tomorrow. I'll save you a seat."
6) Help the guest connect with at least one other person at church. As you converse, think of someone who has a common interest, such as children's ages, similar life stage, employment, neighborhood, hobbies or background. Then make the introduction.
7) Say these words before the guest departs: "We want you here!"
I listened as two young couples bemoaned their search for a church home. Both had researched and visited multiple churches when they moved to a new city. They'd been welcomed, but not connected. One stated, "If just one person would invite us for coffee or show any true interest in us, we'd definitely join!" When we don't bother to make true connections, we can exclude guests.
Jesus said, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." As God brings guests to your church, will you intentionally connect with them? Eternity will be impacted.
Diana Davis is the author of "Fresh Ideas" and "Deacon Wives" (B&H Publishing) and wife of North American Mission Board Vice President for the South Region Steve Davis. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).