Not long ago, I noticed a church billboard I had not seen before. It had the name and address of the church with a picture of their smiling pastor and his wife. The following words were displayed across the bottom:
The friendly church with the friendly pastor
“Well,” I thought, “That certainly sounds like a friendly church. I should visit there some weekend when I’m free.”
Ironically, at that moment I was on my way to visit another church in town for their regular Sunday evening service. One of my friends was going to be leading the musical worship and had invited me to observe and participate.
My friend, let’s call him Mack, had warned me not to tell anyone where I was from. He told me his church was internally focused and did not trust pastors, leaders, members of other churches, or guests of any kind. I thought this was a little strange, but I guaranteed Mack that I wouldn’t speak with anyone about who I was or what church I was from. I even decided to dress down for the evening. (Not the best decision) I suppose I was trying to look like someone who decided to attend the service on the spur of the moment.
I arrived at the church building about 10 minutes before the start of the service. The building looked deserted, but I walked through the empty foyer and found the worship center without encountering another human being. As I entered, the worship team was just breaking from their pre-service music run-through. Mack came and shook my hand, but none of the others on the team spoke to me. After interacting with Mack, I took a seat near the back row of pews and waited for the service to begin.
After a couple of minutes, a man in a suit entered and spotted me from across the room. He immediately headed my way.
“Ah,” I thought, “He must be coming to greet me.”
I was wrong.
“Hello,” he said without extending his hand for me to shake. “I’m the associate pastor here.”
“Nice to meet you, Pastor” I said. “My name is John.”
“Ok,” he replied, putting his hands on his hips.
“This is a very nice church building,” I said, trying to make conversation.
“Yes. Why did you come tonight, John?”
I was somewhat taken aback. I was dressed down, but I didn’t look like a homeless person. I replied, “Oh, I know Mack and he told me he was singing tonight. I had the night off so I thought I’d come hear the music.”
The man looked me over cautiously. I expected him to shoot me the I’m watching you hand signals, but instead, he replied, “I guess that’s ok.”
“Thank you,” I answered, not knowing what else I could possibly say.
Without another word, He shifted on his shiny black loafers and walked away.
“Man,” I thought, “I should have gone to visit the friendly church with the friendly pastor.”
I wish I could tell you the pastor redeemed the church with his sermon, but I left shortly after the music ended. Up to this point, I’ve never returned, much to Mack’s dismay. Every so often, when I drive past the building, I shake my head, remembering my dreadful experience.
And then I wonder…
- How often have people gone unwelcomed in the church where I serve?
- How many guests have felt like the foyer of my church building was deserted?
- How often have our church leaders failed to have someone greeting guests as they enter to worship?
- How often have I been guilty of turning away visitors by my words, actions, or disposition?
The answers to all of these questions should help us all remember why it’s important to build a culture of friendliness in our churches, especially surrounding our worship services. This is one reason why church greeter teams play such a vital role in vibrant, growing churches.
Greeters are groups of church members (or regular attenders) who work cooperatively to ensure that every person (first time guest, regular visitor/attender, or long term member) entering the church facility is welcomed warmly and directed sufficiently.
When I think of church greeters, I can’t help but think of Wal-Mart. Many Wal-Mart stores around the country hire greeters to stand at the door in their blue vests with the sole purpose of greeting people as they walk through the door. So, you may ask, what does this accomplish for Wal-Mart?
- A friendly welcome at the door helps the customer feel (at least the slightest bit) welcomed, can serve to put them in a better mood so they have a more pleasant shopping experience.
- The Wal-Mart greeter is an instant source of information to the customer entering. It doesn’t matter if the person wants to know how to find sporting goods, electronics, home office, or the nearest restroom. The Wal-Mart greeter, often with the words How May I Help You? written across their back, is a plethora of knowledge, especially when you don’t have it.
- Wal-Mart is known for hiring Senior Adults as front door greeters which creates positive feelings (for some at least) for a company which hires people in this demographic group to fulfill these roles.
Church greeters accomplish a lot for the church as well. Here are just a few of their responsibilities:
- Monitoring the cleanliness of the gathering place entryway.
- Opening the door for guests and greeting them as they enter.
- Passing out worship guides to people as they enter the worship service.
- Assisting the church ushers, pastors, and staff with unforeseen emergencies.
- Helping guests know where to go for the worship service, children’s ministry, or restroom.
All of these tasks are extremely important, but not one of these tasks fully describes the full realm of responsibilities fulfilled by the church greeters. I think a better description of church greeters was made by Dr. Nelson L. Price in the following:
Greeters are the personification, the representative, the exemplar, that is, the church embodied. Their very presence is the first living impression of the church body. Greeters need to realize they are more than themselves. They are the style and spirit of the church in human form. Greeters are the Ambassadors of the Door. They are the gatekeepers in the House of the Lord; the envoy of the Lord of the House.*
Well said, Dr. Price.
Church greeters aren’t just bulletin passers, information sharers, door openers, and direction givers. They most often serve as the church’s first contact with the unsaved, unchurched, curious, misguided, broken, hopeful and hurting people who enter our places of worship. Church greeters provide a tremendous service for the Kingdom of God that impacts people for Christ just as much as the Sunday morning preacher or worship leader.
Imagine how different my story at the beginning of this article would have been if I had been greeted warmly, given a welcome packet or worship guide, and directed to the worship center. Their friendliness would have impacted everyone in the building. I might have stayed for the sermon and left with a smile referring to them as the friendly church with the friendly pastor.
*Nelson L Price, The Importance of Church Greeters