Teaching Our People How to Say “Hello”

tea setImagine that you are at least 60 years old, have been a Christian for at least 40 years, and have been a member of your church for at least 20 years.  And your pastor suggests that you need to learn how to offer authentic hospitality.

At best:  These are fighting words.  (“Of course I know how to welcome people.”)

At worst:  “Ouch.”

One of the trickiest things for a pastor to navigate is sharing the uncomfortable news to her people that they are not skilled in 21st Century Hospitality.  We’ve all heard the well-worn adage that all churches consider themselves “friendly” even though it’s clearly not the case.  But it’s quite another thing to suggest that our lifelong church members do not know how to welcome guests well.  Among the common mistakes we make:

  • Pouncing.  (“You should join the choir!)
  • Stalking.  (“I’ve been watching you for the past couple Sundays.“)
  • Smothering.  (“Let me take you to coffee hour and then we can sign you up for the chili dinner.
  • Scaring.  (“You should meet Peggy.  She’s single like you.“)
  • Offending.  (“Those piercings must really hurt.”)
  • Discomfitting.  (“We like it when people dress appropriately for church.“)

I honestly believe that we intend to be genial to the guests in our congregations. But in our excitement to make “new people” feel welcomed, we say awkward things and our efforts do the opposite of our intentions.

Imagine teaching all church greeters, ushers, and coffee servers how to say “hello” in the most authentic and genuine way, without agenda or fakeness.  Imagine saying “Hello” with the intention of making that stranger feel loved and safe and included.  Such a small thing that makes such a difference in creating community.

6 responses to “Teaching Our People How to Say “Hello”

  1. Yes yes yes. I visited a church a few weeks ago and could see clearly that this was a community of good people who cared for each other. But, I purposefully sat near the back and gave every vibe of “don’t say anything else other than hello” that I could muster as I just wanted to do some head clearing and as I was leaving (by the only door with a full receiving line of worship participants), I got: “oh you’ve visited before – tell me your name again (I hadn’t)”, “we’re a really great church”, “there’s cake!”. What I would have loved in my introvert soul was “welcome – we’re glad you’re here” and a sign in the parking lot to tell me how to get to the sanctuary.


  2. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

  3. Pingback: » Teaching Our People How to Say “Hello”

  4. Imagine….. I can almost see it… A sad truth…


  5. You need the sensitivity to greet people warmly, give them the books, very briefly expain if there is something unusual to happen that day and then leave them alone if they do not want to chat before the service.


  6. and yet it seems the more common complaint is: nobody talked to me at all. How can we be inviting without pouncing or stalking? It’s not an easy balance. Any concrete ideas?
    (we attended a church semi-regularly for about 3 years when we were first married and only the parish associate made a point to speak with us. The pastor greeted us in the line at the door, but that was all. No one gave us a personal invitation to coffee hour, so we never went. It was odd.)


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