As a church, we’re about to hit our busiest time of the year. Over the next four weeks, here at Grace, we’ll see hundreds of guests walk through the doors. Though it might seem unspiritual to say it, the chance of them returning is connected to their experience.
Marshall Goldsmith in his book, Triggers, describes the power of encounter with a simple diagram as follows:
Goldsmith uses this diagram to describe his own encounters with flight crew. We might translate this for churches as follows:
- actively positive – big smile, warm welcome, genuinely pleased to welcome a visitor, will go out of their way to help. These people should be ‘customer facing’ – welcome, stewards, refreshments, platform etc.
- passively positive – will hand out a service sheet with a smile – pleasant, but not necessarily winning.
- passively negative – think passive aggressive . . . the person who doesn’t say hello to the visitor who sits next to them, or who tuts at noisy children, or who greets the inquirer with a minimal answer and a forced smile. Not always easy to describe, but we all have a pretty sensitive radar to the passive aggressive.
- actively negative – the sort of person that identifies a visitor, then scolds them for sitting or standing in the wrong place, for lingering with their coffee, for generally being present, in the way, and an inconvenience. These people should be advised to sit at home and watch Songs of Praise (only joking, sort of)!
The other little nugget of insight from Goldsmith was that his airline crew were all working for the same company, same hours, same pay, same job, same training – yet could be quite different. Goldsmith suggests (off the back of some further research) that the determining factor was not external environment but the internal mood and disposition of the person. In other words we can all take responsibility and actively choose to be warm and welcoming. And if we’re not, we can’t blame someone, or something else for what is ultimately our problem.
So what can you do this Christmas to help visitors feel welcome?
- A warm welcome at the door – someone to greet, ideally who they will see on the platform (leader or speaker) – big smile, warm handshake, genuine enthusiasm
- Friendly stewards – sensitive, keen to help – whether in the car-park or in the building
- clear signs and directions – what will happen, where do we find things – have people around who can help answer questions
- Speaking in such a way as to acknowledge and welcome visitors (many of us are not as good at this as we think we are – think about pitch, tone, language)
- Quality refreshments – nothing says ‘we’ll tolerate you, but we don’t like you’ like instant coffee and soggy biscuits
- A gift pack for visitors with info about the church and a small gift to thank them for coming
- A ‘connect’ team who are especially tasked with looking out for visitors after the service, and answering any questions
Now of course we want people to encounter Christ in his Word, and of course we want the whole church to be welcoming, but it seems to me, genuinely welcoming churches don’t take this for granted – they are proactive and intentional about offering a superb welcome. A lady visited our church recently. She’d visited another church the week before who had told her that her wheelchair was making the place look untidy. She didn’t go back. I suspect that church didn’t intend to be unfriendly, but this sort of thing is more likely to happen when the expectation of welcome is implied, rather than pursued. So don’t be defensive or overly pious about this. Take responsibility, take action, and go out of your way to be actively positive.