In our family’s current journey of looking for a church, we empathize anew with Christian families that are new movers and have to find a new church on their own.
I am re-discovering is the value of small talk when engaging your first time visitor. (Read these 20 Crazy Church Greeter Comments).
Our church visit this past Sunday drew my attention to the value of small talk.
We visited the main site of a multi-site congregation about a 20 minute drive from our house.
We had discovered (through our research online) that this church is starting a Hispanic ministry in the area.
A Hispanic ministry is one of the criteria we bring in our personal evaluation of where we want to connect.
We wanted to check it out.
The church website was clear on service times and directions. They maintain it well. In our journey so far, this has been the first working church website that answered our questions right away.
We arrived about 10 minutes after the service started (because we took a wrong highway exit by our own fault).
By that time, the parking lot team had left.
I assumed they had a team because we saw a sign asking first time visitors to flash their lights to be guided to special parking.
We entered the first building we parked close to – which was an empty family life center.
Returning outside, we watched to see where people entered and then joined them to the main entrance.
This is where we found the lobby area, and greeters were easily identifiable by their lanyard name tags.
We approached one to ask about the Hispanic ministry we had heard about.
The first gentleman didn’t have an answer, and began to politely ask our kids about their ages for the Sunday school program. He was a nice and talkative gentleman, focused pretty intently on getting our kids into the right class.
Once he learned that we were first time visitors, new in the area, and looking for a church home, we were directed to the welcome center behind us where another friendly greeter took over.
I was invited to fill out the visitor card, and the friendly church greeter began to talk about all the available church programming we could signup for.
In the time I took to fill out the card, my wife had received a coffee cup and pen (free gift from the church), and about 5 brochures and a handful of papers about all the programming options.
What was missing in this conversation?
The welcome center volunteer was friendly and clearly loved her church. But she spoke about programming that we knew nothing about and meant nothing to us.
In the church greeter monologue of the programming options, there was no question asked of us.
The presentation by the church greeter was one sided program pitch versus an interest in who we were or what brought us to church.
We felt a small panic at the overwhelming number of options thrown at us all at once.
It felt like walking in to an ice-cream store and finding it impossible to choose which one of the 31 flavors we wanted.
Since church programming is not yet a defined criteria in our list (other than Hispanic Ministry), most of her options fell on deaf ears.
Small Talk Tips at Church Welcome Centers
You can turn the situation around and make some helpful improvements. Rather than assume we are looking for programming, take genuine interest in your visitor with some of the following conversational tips.
1. Ask useful questions.
Your first time visitor may not want a menu to choose from. They may not be ready to get involved right away.
Ask simple questions like
- What are you looking for in a church home?
- IF you are looking for a church, is there a particular ministry you’d like to know about?
- How long have you been in the area?
- Would your children like to sit with you this morning, or would they like to know about our Sunday school options?
2. Prepare a visitors packet and hand it to them.
Rather than explaining everything in the church visitor packet and all the wonderful church programming you have, simply place it in their hands for future reading.
Your first time church visitor may not want to signup for anything immediately. In our church shopping experience, we don’t want to sign up for anything.
Since we were the anonymous church visitor, your packet can tell the story of your church later.
3. Finish with “Do you have any questions I can answer?”
After filling out the visitor card, receiving our free coffee mug and pen, the multiple pieces of paper about programming, we were handed off to an church usher to be led to our seat.
I would never learn about the Hispanic ministry.
It wasn’t on the list of options.
I forced the issue of our need instead and raised the question,
“Where can I find out about the Hispanic Ministry we’ve heard about?’
Our greeter quickly found an answer and we were handed off a person who personally escorted us to the meeting room where the Hispanic team meets.
4. Give them a good welcome and help your visitor find their seat.
Even if there are no questions to answer, honor your guest with a great welcome and then help them find their seat.
Take your welcome center greeting up a notch
In one of our recent church visits, a church did this pretty well. They engaged us in meaningful small talk.
This conversation at the welcome center can be a great place to help your visitor begin to connect.
You might hear a need they have that your church can meet.
You might hear a need you can cover in prayer.
You might not hear anything useful.
No matter what, honor them with a good welcome and help them find their seat.
That first encounter shouldn’t be a program recruiting pitch. Rather, take a personal interest in who they are as people and let your visitor packet speak for itself.
Our Visit with the Hispanic Ministry Team
We had a good visit with the team. We met several new friends. Our children were personally welcomed.
After our kids were personally invited to hang out and visit a class with the teenager present, there remained only 5 adults, plus us 2 for a total of 7.
We helped them turn off the lights.
And we continued to visit with each other outside the classroom for another 90 minutes.
Had we not had an urgent need to leave for homework tasks, we would have spent the afternoon with one of the families.
We left our first visit feeling like we’ve made new friends.
The simplest form of church visitor assimilation is helping people make friends.
Small Talk Training
There are more segments about small talk conversation on my Church Greeters Training Set. It’s one of the most popular products in the store.
Additional Small Talk Helps
- For Greeters: What to say to A Church Visitor
- Conversational Questions for Church Greeters
- Different Greetings to Welcome Church Visitors
Book: Church Greeters 101 Book.