Greeters

Greeters: People positioned at the doors of a church to welcome newcomers with a smile and a handshake.

At my church, there is a small battalion of middle aged-men—a motley crew who throw a football back and forth in the parking lot, even as Minnesota fall turns to winter. They wear heavy coats and hats with ear-flaps and holler boisterous g’mornin’s as you pick your way across the snow to shake their outstretched hands.

Once inside, there a few more—the older crowd, holding coffee in one hand while bending down to speak to your small son as if he is the only person in the world. Then straightening to look in your eyes, take your hand, say, “So glad you’ve come.”

And I think there is something brave about this work, something holy about extending your hand to a stranger, even if it’s for just a brief moment.

But on Child Dedication Sunday, they add another layer of greeting in anticipation of all the guests. She is young and beautiful, works at the church in the specific area of helping new people get connected, and she is grinning wide and purposefully. She is gunning for them.

I can see it in their eyes, the people who are stopped by her glad greetings after already enduring two rounds of handshakes at the door. This is overkill. I can tell that they are momentarily stunned by the fluorescent wattage of all this excitement first thing on a Sunday morning. They shift a little, look around the room. I feel a little sorry for them all.

We’ve been going to this church long enough to know a little bit about this girl. She is strong and honest and beautiful. Once she sang for us the song she wrote for her mother when she was on her deathbed, and the way that pain and hope mingled in the notes made everyone cry a little.

When she stands up on stage this morning, explaining that if you’re new, you should meet her after the service for a free gift, she means it all the way through. She wants you to find something here; she wants it to feel like home.

But it doesn’t really sound like that. It sounds like sales, like marketing, like a freebie designed to get you to subscribe to an email newsletter that you’re not really sure if you want.

And it sounds awkward and inorganic because it is. Because this is not the work of a select few with the Greeter sticker slapped on their shirts, but the deep heart of Christian love. You look for the stranger, the wanderer, the weary, and you welcome them in.

It is quiet work, and it takes every single person, every last broken one of us.

It is hearing a name, a detail, a child’s age, and holding it like treasure in your heart. It is asking questions, listening, introducing. It is helping to find the right classroom. It is exclaiming over a child’s artwork in the foyer.

To greet is a kind of bravery. To take up the long consistent work that is welcome—that is a kind of love. And that belongs to us all.

12 thoughts on “Greeters

  1. I think part of the problem that leads to this is that MANY church-goers only feel free to do a particular “thing” if they are officially given that “job”. Once they are given that “job” by the church, the staff, members, etc., expect them to be the one that does it, and everybody else is off the hook.

    In an effort to make sure “everything” gets done, we’ve compartmentalized EVERY job in the church, which leaves each person who does things only focusing on ONE job, and that leads to the “forced” feeling that comes across as fake so often.

    When only the official greeters greet you, it reeks of “let’s make sure EVERYBODY gets greeted” rather than that natural, organic love. It’s the same when only the pastor says “thanks for being here”. Even though he should say it and everybody would be mad if he didn’t.

    And besides, greeters automatically “feel” like bouncers. So do ushers.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. Once a month I help get the kids checked-in, and I can tell you that it’s much easier to greet and welcome when it’s my “job”–when they’re coming to me. But that’s not the way relationships are truly formed or community is made or that people are ushered into grace and love. That happens when I’m willing to take a risk to go beyond my “job” and move within my calling.

  2. I HATE the “you’re new here” experience at ANY church. I’ve simply never been to a church that didn’t weird me out a little bit. It’s always well intentioned, but I despise it. Don’t make me fill out a card, don’t make me stand up, don’t sing a song to me, don’t ask me to raise my hand, don’t send somebody to interview me, don’t make a spectacle of me in ANY way. I want people to say Hi and be nice, I want the “pulpit” to tell me I’m welcome, but stop the embarrassing stuff 🙂 Because I hate it so bad, I’m sensitive to it when “we” do it.

    As for the kids thing you mention, that one is especially weird for me, because if I go to a new church and people who are not “official” start talking to my kids too friendly, I would probably call the cops (not really, but you get what I mean). So, I’m sensitive to people who bring their kids. I think that’s part of why we’re like we are – there are simply certain social dos and dont’s that carry over into how we act as church members with people we don’t know. Personally, while I WANT to be friendly, I’m a little bit shy and always afraid that I will come across wrong. I also admit to the fact that if I don’t know people very well, I don’t trust them. So I don’t WANT to know them TOO well. Just a little. Just a surface relationship. I’m weird like that.

    Part of MY problem is that I see a lot of things that evangelicalism does wrong, but I can’t figure out how to do them right, either. I’ve just not seen many successful versions of it. If any.

    Possibly, for me, the biggest turnoff is an announcement to “be sure and welcome our visitors” or some such. If the pastor has to tell the regulars to welcome visitors every week, there’s quite seriously a problem. Either the pastor doesn’t trust his regulars, or the regulars are just not capable of memory, or they really don’t want visitors.

    Good grief. I gotta shut up 🙂

    1. I’m kind of the opposite on the kid thing. It always makes me feel loved when people take a genuine interest in my children. When they treat them not as nuisances but as valuable, wonderful little people. Of course, not in a creepy, “come give me a hug, little guy” kind of way…that would freak me out…but in that way that kids should be honored and loved, in that Jesus-mirrored, “let the little children come to me.” I’m a stay-at-home-mom. My kids are my world. For someone to recognize that and enter into it speaks volumes.

      But about the embarrassing “visitor announcements,” I’m with you all the way. I’ve been to so many churches where I’ve been welcomed enthusiastically by greeters, only to spend the rest of the service feeling entirely alone and unnoticed. This immediately makes me think, “inauthentic.” It makes me think “this is just a show.”

      I realize it’s a two-way street, that the weight of relationship can’t be entirely on the church people, but I wish that they…that we…could understand how integral each of us is in this mosaic of welcome. It is not the responsibility of a few but of each of us in our own unique way.

  3. Oh my. Oh my. I’ve had some greeter experiences. I write about it in the chapter “The Simplicity Complex” in my book. I think it’s in the sub-head “Temple for Simpletons.” These people could not pronounce my monosyllabic name! “J-a-a-a-a-a-d?” “No, it’s Chad.” “Ja-a-a-a-a-a-a-d?” “No, ‘Chad’ like ‘Brad.'” “Cha-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-d?” 🙂

    I never went back to that church. But I’ve also never forgotten it. Sometimes awful things lead to wonderful stories. 🙂

  4. This ridiculousness goes back to our mis-identity of “church” right? If the church is a holy hour on a holy day in a stain-glassed building, then we gotta have stain-glassed people offering stain-glassed greetings, etc., etc., etc.
    So let’s be the church…people who actually, authentically love people. All people. And not especially the best prospects who arrive in our parking lots!

  5. I call it walking the gauntlet. I grew up in church and know people mean well, but I still hate official greeters when I go somewhere new. I want to get into the building and get oriented without having people talk to me because it’s their assignment.

    P.S. I love your writing style.

    1. I know what you mean. I understand the need for it–to an extent–and the impetus behind it. But it does feel a little overkill, and I think often has the opposite effect than the one that we mean to have.

      I have a little trouble with the idea of joining the “welcome ministry,” because that isn’t really a capital-M-Ministry–it’s just part of it. Part of loving God, part of loving others. Part of what it is to begin to understand grace.

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