After his girlfriend leaves him, Steve Martin learns about being viewed differently in the 1984 comedy, The Lonely Guy. In one scene, he dines out, ignored by a crowded room, until he tells the host he is dining alone. Suddenly, all conversation stops and a spotlight appears that follows him to his table in the center of the room (tinyurl.com/MATI-lonley). It’s uncomfortable, it’s awkward, it’s embarrassing and it’s hilarious – because it’s happening to someone else.
Not too long ago, this column looked at the frustrations of being invisible. While some of us may like to turn heads when we walk into a room, I suspect most people are relieved to avoid the not-quite-as-literal spotlight. And that includes the church.
In a small church, everyone knows you aren’t part of the regular bunch. I personally knew one saint that had memorized everyone’s license plates memorized and anticipated visitors before entering church. There may the feeling in larger congregations of being checked out.
A common approach used to be asking visitors to stay seated while members stand and then hunt down the newcomers. As a conference speaker delicately observed, “When visitors stay seated, what will they find themselves looking at when the person in front of them stands up? Is that the impression we want them to have?” Just as bad is being pointed out during worship.
These approaches have largely been replaced by greeting times. To be meaningful, they must shouldn’t be too long, too short or too forced. And LifeWay President Thom Rainer found in an informal survey it still made visitors uncomfortable (tinyurl.com/MATI-lonelylist).
There are a variety of materials suggesting way to balance a welcoming attitude without scaring off visitors by turning on that spotlight:
Make information available, in person, in communications or on the website. (Avoid making visitors ask.)
Unfriendly facilities. (Avoid making them struggle to find parking spaces, unlocked doors, directions or hard-to-understand signage.)
Dirty facilities, especially children’s areas. (Avoid making them mention them.)
Hostility. (Avoid making them feel ignored or have to say hello first.)
Insider actions. (Avoid making them feel like they’ve wandered into your conversation, dressed wrong or sat in someone’s seat.)
Not collecting information. (Avoid making them make the next move.)
Too passionate about information. (Avoid making them hide from you.)
Follow up permission. (Avoid making them hide from you on their doorstep.)
Remember that it’s not about invisibility or about the spotlight. It’s about being visible and truly welcomed.
Ken Satterfield is a former media specialist and current marking coordinator for Word&Way.
Church Hospitality Resource Links (EvangelismCoach)
Welcoming Visitors During A Church Service (ChurchJuice)
Visitor Article Links (Church Marketing Sucks)