One of the many joys of this season of life at LPC is the increasing number of visitors and new members and attenders who are becoming a part of our family or faith. It is a joy and a blessing from God for which we should be grateful and humble. Visitors come having found our website or passed by our building. They are invited by friends and family. But in the end, this is God’s doing. Whatever image best describes it – the Good Shepherd seeking the lost and the endangered, the kind Teacher calling the children to his side, the Hound of Heaven in his relentless pursuit of us – this is God’s doing.
But there is a downside to all this for some of us. We see them every week: people whose faces we don’t recognize let alone whose names we remember. We want to express our delight in having them join us for worship, invite them to share a cup of coffee and begin to get to know them, and they us, just a little bit. But how do we do that? The dangers are many.
So we see them across the way or maybe in the pew next to us. There they are in the Fellowship Hall sipping coffee all by themselves. But what if we somehow awkwardly extend a welcome to LPC or try to engage them in some conversation and we find out:
- They’ve been attending one of the other services for over a year now and were received into membership that Sunday we were down at the shore.
- They’re “just visiting” and are the “don’t need any assistance” customer to our overly assertive clerk who wants to help them find just what they’re looking for. They never come back because our church is entirely too friendly.
- In fact, this is the third week in a row that we’ve introduced ourselves and asked them if they are new.
- Their vocabulary seems to consist entirely of barely audible monosyllabic grunts.
- They actually want some information about what we believe or what programs and ministries are available at LPC, and we’re afraid we won’t know the answer.
Yes, better leave friendliness to the guy in the Bermuda shorts out on the front steps.
The fact of the matter is that some of our visitors are “just shopping” and head for the exits as soon as the benediction is pronounced. It’s okay to let them go. But what about those who linger for a minute or more? Extending ourselves by an introduction or a trying to jump start a conversation can be risky; awkward moments do come up. As hard as we may try to “read” our guests and how to best greet and engage, sometimes we misread and we – and they – feel uncomfortable.
The risk is always worth it, however. The church that worships the God who calls us by name can do nothing less than be willing to risk building relationships with those who come through our doors.
A few thoughts and suggestions for reaching out to visitors:
- Start with your name instead of asking theirs – “Hi. My name is Bill.”
- Take responsibility – “I don’t think we’ve met yet.” Or “We met last week, but I don’t remember your name. I’m so sorry.” And then repeat the name; three times in the next few sentences, the memory experts say. And as soon as the conversation is over, write the name down and review if before worship the next week.
- State more and ask less. “We’ve been at LPC for five years and really love the church,” is a lot less intimidating than, “So what brings you to LPC?” or “Are you new to the area?” “I saw your children. I’d be glad to tell you about our Sunday School program (or introduce you to someone who can)” can be less threatening than “Do you have any questions about our children’s program?” “Hope to see you next week,” works better than, “So, do you think you’ll come back?”
- Remember “guests first.” Before you begin a conversation with a long-time friend, greet the visitor in your pew as you leave or look around the narthex or Fellowship Hall for those visitors (or members!) standing by themselves. Offer a quick prayer for courage and then take those ten steps across the room, “Hi. My name is Bill. I don’t think we’ve met…”
The guy in the Bermuda shorts out on the front steps is a amazing servant of the God who calls us by name. Still, he needs some help from the rest of us.