Sunday Super-Greeters Keep Visitors Engaged, Returning
Jeff Hutchins hasn't seen the start of a church service in years at the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church of The North Hills in Pittsburgh, PA (174 members). The reason: He's out in the foyer welcoming just one more late-arriving visitor.
When InterConnections asked congregations for names of "enthusiastic greeters," in the belief that we could all learn something from them about being welcoming to visitors, Jeff came highly recommended. "I think of him as the guru of greeting," says Kathy Miller. "He is a big reason I came back to visit the second and third times. And now I'm board chair."
Hutchins is "leader of the greeters" at North Hills. His philosophy: "Every member of our church was at one time a first-time visitor. I try to remember how that felt." His technique: He arrives early to memorize names of recent visitors. "Nothing makes a person feel more welcome than to be greeted by name."
His opening gambit: "Hi, I'm Jeff Hutchins. I don't think I've had the pleasure of meeting you before, have I?" He catches visitors just inside the front door, asks them to sign the guest book, gives a quick orientation to the meeting room, bathrooms, classrooms, etc., and invites them to stay for coffee. He encourages them to "try us at least three times." He adds, "The most important thing is not what someone says to a visitor, but that the visitor is not ignored."
Another "super-greeter" is Marie Arnold at Live Oak UU Congregation, Goleta, CA (119), says the Rev. Bets Wienecke. "She remembers names, introduces people to each other, gives them a special white lunch bag filled with information, and makes sure they get a name tag by their third visit." Marie's welcoming nature prevented a problem recently. Explained Wienecke: "When a visitor felt hurt by a remark made by someone to her, rather than leaving in anger and pain she explained to Marie what she'd heard. Marie came to me, and we met with this woman together. This wouldn't have happened without Marie."
Other super-greeters mentioned to InterConnections were Barbara Berrios, Nashua, NH; Roger Ehm and Ken Cowan, Palatine, IL; Laura Semple, Littleton, MA; Alice Norman, Weymouth, MA; George Bliss, West Shore, Cleveland, OH; Tom Rosenbaum, White Plains, NY; Mike and Kok Heong McNaughton, Los Alamos, NM; Chris Gilbert, Bell Street Chapel, Providence, RI; Jen Smith and JoAnn Hush, First Parish, Brewster, MA.; Mary Frappier and Jim Estey, First Unitarian, Providence, RI; Sally Payne, Bridgewater, MA; and Elizabeth Lion, Bloomington, IN.
Many greeters have stories of being poorly greeted on their first visits to a UU congregation. When Claude Bradford and his wife visited First UU Church, San Diego (795), 39 years ago, they almost dropped out because few spoke to them. "Then we chose to overcome our newcomer shyness," he said, "and actively seek out others." Now he's involved in greeting others. "I encourage them to talk about themselves and their journey to the church. And I introduce them to at least one other member."
At the Unitarian Church in Summit, NJ (407), members coined the phrase, "We've been Oishied," to describe being greeted by Jeanette Oishi. Her tips: "I say something about myself—where I live, my new grandchild—and then they feel free to confide back. I try to find an interest and introduce them to someone with the same interest." Her trademark: "I don't shake hands, I hug. Some no doubt just think I'm nuts, but I do get great hugs."