You've all been there.
A person you don't recognize is walking towards you and your mind is racing furiously trying to place their face. Do you know them? Have they been here before? All of these thoughts are registering on your face as your brow furrows and you frown trying to search the recesses of your memory.
Its the moment of no return. Do you make eye contact and risk saying hi and the awkward conversation to follow, or do the safe thing and look away?
As someone who cares about new people being comfortable in our church I want to know who these new people are. Unfortunately, like the majority of people I have to work at it...hard.
In a larger church one of the biggest obstacles to meeting new people is not being confident that they are actually new. I'm sure all of you reading this have greeted someone you thought was new only to find out they've been attending for the past 4 years and is a deacon.
That embarrassment factor alone keeps us from really greeting people as we should and in the process many new people slip through the cracks unnoticed or they feel a cold shoulder.
Its not that people in churches are unfriendly, in fact they want to be so friendly and polite they don't want to risk offending a guest by asking if they are new in case they're not.
So what can your greeting team and regular attenders of your church do to combat this?
1. Get over yourself.
Yes, its embarrassing to meet a new person that has been attending for 6 months but more than likely they didn't recognize you either. But really if you care for people and don't want them to fall through the cracks you've got to put your own feelings on hold and take the plunge. Care about that person more than you care how you look.
2. Smile and Be Genuinely Warm
The single most disarming and warm thing a person can do to another person is to simply look them in the eye and smile. Without any words exchanged the smile communicates instantly that I'm not threatening, I'm interested in you, I'm happy, I'm happy to see you, I'm approachable, I'm trustworthy, I'm pleasant, I'm opening myself up to you and many many other things.
If a greeter or regular church goer does nothing else then to smile at all guests who come through the doors, the experience of those guests will exponentially be better.
3. Use a Strategic Greeting
If you suspect that a person or family is new start off with a smile and ask them:
"Have we met before?"
There are a variety of ways you can intonate the question that communicate your intent. Its flexible enough to convey a sincere recognition of the person if you're pretty sure you've met but can't remember the details. You can also ask it in a way where you only have a vague recollection of a meeting.
Greeting someone in this fashion shows that if they have been attending you care enough to recognize them while admitting you don't remember everything. It is a self-depreciating way to ask, "Are you new here?"
I've found that most guests will answer with a form of "I'm not sure." The reason for that is they think you may have met, maybe even somewhere outside the church. Even if they're sure you've never met they will normally answer something like "I don't think so."
Either answer gives you an open door to ask for their name without the awkwardness of not having remembered it.
Even if they give a confident "yes" that you have met before or "no" you haven't, you've already shown that you recognize them and care.
You now have the open door to ask for their name without the awkwardness.
"Okay, I'm Josh (obviously insert your own name cause that would be weird to use mine), will you remind me of your name?"
Again, this puts the onus on you as the party that didn't remember, not the guest, and they are free to share with you.
Be sure to share your name without them having to ask. We have ridiculously huge name lanyards so I often will use that as a joke to point out my own name.
The big idea is that we want guests to feel comfortable and by caring more about them than yourself, smiling and using self-depricating language you can accomplish that.