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Twenty Suggestions for a More Welcoming Congregational Office
By the Reverend Dr. Lucy Hitchcock, from Churchworks by Anne Odin Heller
- Locate the office(s) in an easily accessible, uncrowded space even if you have to move it, remodel, or build it. Have more room in the office complex than the staff will ever need. If possible, have both public and private office spaces so that staff have areas protected from intrusion, but the public experiences openness and welcome.
- Decorate the office in a way that is attractive, colorful, inviting, and comfortable, with expandable seating, excellent lighting, and windows, skylights, and more than one lockable door. Either green plants or a view of greenery outside are a plus, both for healthy working conditions and a nurturing aura.
- Keep the office neat and clean and obtain containers for papers-in-progress. Have regularly scheduled days to organize the files and reduce the piles.
- Have lovely artwork, in a variety of models and textures, appropriate to a religious building. A gallery with changing quality artwork of local artists or church members is a plus.
- Have a small table and chairs for quick meetings plus a cluster of comfortable chairs.
- Have a library or bookstore or magazine rack. Have a coffee pot going or a pot of water easily heated up with a variety of tea bags.
- Have a conversation area near the office for people to sit, visitors to wait, and children to be entertained with a few attractive and dispensable books and toys. Occasionally put a wish list in the newsletter for office equipment, children's items, magazines, or journals of popular and religious interest.
- Have volunteer receptionists who greet visitors and members and answer the telephone, whose primary task is to be friendly and helpful gatekeepers. Recruit people who are responsible and approachable. Train them about confidentiality. .
- Have a pile of tasks ready—with clear instructions that volunteers can follow when not on the phones or visiting: copying, folding, data entry, phone calls about upcoming events or meetings, follow-up on visitors, checking on the homebound. Some tasks with special skill requirements may be assigned to regular volunteers such as entering the attendance roster; changing the words in the church sign; entering data from the skills and interest survey; scanning other churches' newsletters for good ideas, graphics, and calendar items; getting sermon topics or upcoming activities to the newspapers; typing sermons to be available for purchase. Have special name badges for volunteers. A photo gallery of office volunteers or the volunteer on duty makes an appreciative statement.
- Have generous office hours, such as every morning or every weekday plus Sunday.
- Get the word out that drop-ins are welcome. Unlock the door so that access is easy during office hours. Have clear outdoor signs directing people to the office, even if you think it is obvious.
- Have a weekly brown bag lunch when the available staff join the drop-ins for a half hour or more. Build the culture that the church is a place to meet your friends for conversation.
- Hire an administrator who is warm and friendly and good at setting boundaries. If office staff are also church members, clear instruction and agreement on confidentiality must be established. It is preferable that office staff not be church members because of the confusion of roles. It is a myth that a non-member cannot get to know the members sufficiently or care about the church well enough to conduct their job. The supervisor, usually a minister, can have a process check regularly with the office staff to make sure that staff and member roles are kept clear and separate when necessary.
- Hire an administrator who is good at delegating and training volunteers.
- Put photos of the current minister(s) and all staff in the entry hall along with a map to find their offices. Place formal photos of past ministers in a different location. When there are multiple staff, place a board in a visible place with staff names to indicate who is in or out or when they will return.
- Have clear, consistently colored, laminated signs so that visitors are welcomed, staff offices can be located, and bathrooms found without asking. Bathrooms should be clean, well supplied with paper products, including extra articles of hygiene, with something attractive on the walls. A chair, a changing table, and even a couch around the comer are helpful extras.
- Have brochures and other easy reading material on Unitarian Universalism displayed in a portable pamphlet kiosk in the waiting area. (The kiosk can be transported to a meeting room.) Place framed UUA Principles and Purposes on the wall.
- Have a mail center for letters or notes to be dropped off or placed in clearly labeled staff, board, or committee slots or folders. Ministers should have a way for urgent messages to be prominently displayed. Tidying the mail area is a good task for volunteers—keep a wastebasket and recycling bin handy.
- Have a secure place for money or checks to be placed, for example, a mail slot in a well secured area.
- Have fun in the office. Let it be a place of joy and beauty as well as accomplishment, a place of personal growth as well as spiritual meaning. Plan periodic office parties and celebrations for staff as well as volunteers.