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Being Better About Greeting Visitors

Q. Our members aren't as good as they should be about greeting visitors. How can we encourage them to do better?

A. Roy M. Oswald and Speed B. Leas, in their book, The Inviting Church, A Study of New Member Assimilation (Alban Institute, 1997), report that one congregation handled this situation by putting the two following notices in the Order of Service:

Notice to Visitors: People who attend St. Mark's regularly are for the most part kind and friendly people, but they tend to be a bit shy and self-conscious with strangers. They are afraid of greeting people they think are new and discovering that "the visitors" have been attending St. Mark's for years. So please help. Identify yourself to the people nearest you and ask them to tell you about our church.

Notice to St. Mark's Members: Please do your best to make everyone feel welcome. Always introduce yourself to the people sitting near you if you don't know their names. To avoid the embarrassment of mistaking a longtime member for a visitor, use the following ploy: "Good morning. My name is ____________. I've been coming to St. Mark's for _________(years/weeks). How about you?"

Greeters should also find out a little about visitors, without prying, then try to connect them with people and/or small groups with similar interests. In a study done by Oswald and Leas, they found that visitors were looking for 1) a warm, welcoming, caring community; 2) meaningful worship and sermons; and 3) a family place for children. If you're not sure what visitors are looking for, just assume those three things, say Oswald and Leas.

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

For more information contact interconnections@uua.org.

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