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You’re welcome: Greeters, ushers serve crucial role Mary Jacobs, Sep 18, 2009
2009 DESIGN PICS PHOTO
By welcoming visitors and making members feel at home, greeters and ushers perform an important ministry in the church.
By Mary Jacobs Staff Writer
Because Calvary United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh, Pa., left its doors open, at least one life was changed.
Normally, ushers would close the doors to the sanctuary as soon as Sunday morning worship was under way. But last summer, the ushers began leaving the doors open to the urban street outside the north side church.
Sure enough, a young woman named Lisa wandered in during the middle of the service one Sunday and later joined the church. Lisa now sings in the choir and attends Bible study.
Calvary’s pastor, the Rev. Larry Homitsky, tells the story to make this simple point: “Greeters and ushers make a huge difference in the life of a church.”
As more United Methodist churches seek to become more welcoming, they are turning attention to the tasks of ushering and greeting teams. Typically, greeters and ushers make the first and last contact with each worshipper on Sunday morning.
“We Methodists say that we have ‘open doors, open hearts, open minds,’ so it’s important that we give a warm welcome to whoever walks through our doors,” says Jennifer Hollerung, director of evangelism at Hayes Barton UMC in Raleigh, N.C.
According to Mr. Homitsky, who is also a national trainer for the denomination’s Rethink Church campaign, information on welcoming visitors and members for Sunday worship “is one of the most requested modules in the Rethink Church training events,” he said. “Everybody is looking for practical ideas to put into effect as soon as possible.”
Over the years, Mr. Homitsky has trained almost 35,000 people in 2,500 congregations for the Rethink Church and Igniting Ministry campaigns.
So, how can churches extend a better welcome?
Start by recruiting volunteers with a heart for welcoming, Ms. Hollerung advises. When she took responsibility for the church’s greeting team, adult Sunday school classes were assigned to take turns handling the task. Not all were enthusiastic. Now church members sign up, and she says she’s had no trouble with recruiting volunteers. Church members are encouraged to pair up with family members or friends to serve as greeters together.
Ms. Hollerung tries to maintain diversity among her team of greeters, not only with people of different ages and backgrounds, but also new members as well as long-time members.
“We encourage new members to sign up, because it’s a great way to get to know people,” she said. “It’s something that anyone can do, and it doesn’t involve meetings.”
“Greeting is one of the few ministries in the church that can truly be intergenerational,” says Paige Lanier Chargois, author of The Work of the Greeter (Judson Press, 2009). “Men, women, families—anyone can join the greeter team. Even a very young child can greet worshippers with his or her family, which is certainly a beautiful blessing for the family. Teenagers get a real kick out of greeting, and it gives them something to be involved in the church beyond singing or ushering.”
Ms. Chargois’ advice: Make sure greeters and ushers are visible and recognizable to newcomers. Some churches have them wear uniforms. At Hamilton Park United Methodist in Dallas, an African-American congregation, ushers wear navy suits, crisp white shirts and white gloves.
Other churches may opt for badges, nametags or a corsage to designate ushers and greeters on duty.
“Find some way to make it clear who the ‘go-to’ people are,” Ms. Chargois said.
Another tip for good greeting: Don’t wait till worshippers arrive at the door to greet them. If possible, have greeters on hand in the parking lot to assist and welcome folks as they arrive.
One of the churches that Mr. Homitsky has trained has built on this idea with an innovative ministry: the “Welcoming Arms” program, staffed by the youth of the church. Wearing vests that clearly identify them, the youth meet elderly members as they arrive in the parking lot. They open their doors and offer an arm, if assistance is needed, or an umbrella if it’s raining.
Because snow and ice make the parking lot treacherous, this ministry is particularly welcome during the winter. After the service, youth meet elderly members in the vestibule to help them back to their cars, and clear off any snow that’s accumulated.
“Welcoming Arms” allows older members to attend church when the weather is bad, Mr. Homitsky said, and creates warm ties between young and elderly members who might not interact much otherwise.
Not coincidentally, he adds with a smile, youth fundraisers have become more profitable in recent years. “You should have seen what happened when the kids sold their hoagies,” he said.
Another tip for good greeting: Remember to greet people when they leave as well as when they arrive.
“Visitors are more likely to ask questions after the service, rather than before,” Mr. Homitsky said. “Congregations are wising up to the fact that it’s just as important to have exit greeters.”
At Hamilton Park UMC, two tables are set up in the fellowship area where refreshments are served after Sunday morning worship: one for first-time visitors and one for second-time and returning visitors.
The Rev. R. Jeremiah Booker, Hamilton Park’s senior pastor, says it’s important to acknowledge visitors on their second visit, maybe even more so than the first. While a person visiting for the first time might be passing through for a baptism or an out-of-town visit, those who come a second time are more likely to be interested in joining.
“If they come back, that means there is something they liked,” said Dr. Booker. “Something made them come back for a second look. We try to identify those persons and be sure we respond.”
The church provides a gift for first-time visitors and a different item to give to second-time visitors.
“We try to give second-time visitors a little more information about the church and the ministries we offer,” he said. “And we try to get some contact information from them so that we can follow up with a call, an e-mail, a note or a visit.”
Greeters and ushers should remember that some visitors may not know even the most basic aspects of church tradition. Mr. Homitsky recalls the story of Lisa, the walk-in visitor. When he introduced himself to her after the service, she asked: “Do you do this every Sunday?” “We’re not just talking about ‘unchurched’ people,” he said, “we’re living in a society that’s more like a mission field. Many people have had no experience with a Christian church.” The lesson learned: Don’t assume visitors will know the basics.
While the duties of ushers typically include distributing bulletins and collecting the offering, Mr. Homitsky says they should challenge themselves to get to know church members’ names and to introduce newcomers to members with similar interests.
At Ms. Hollerung’s church, a survey revealed that 70 percent of new members joined because of the people they met and the friendly feel of the church. That keeps her motivated, she said, because greeters and ushers help ensure that visitors and members alike will encounter a familiar face.
“They extend Christ’s kindness, so that each person who comes into worship knows that they are loved,” she said.
But while practical steps for training ushers and greeters are helpful, they won’t make a significant difference unless the congregation also cultivates a genuine welcoming spirit.
“Welcoming and radical hospitality is a lifestyle,” Mr. Homitsky said. “It’s not just a matter of doing one or two things differently.”
Good Greetings: Tips for the Greeter
1. Give your full attention to each person you encounter. Make eye contact. 2. Treat each arriving worshipper as if he or she belongs to the church. It’s not always easy to tell who’s a member and who’s new. 3. Learn names and use them. Review your church’s photo directory beforehand. When you meet someone new, repeat his or her name and try to use it in conversation or in making an introduction. 4. Be prepared. Know what’s happening in the church that day and know how to direct visitors to the nursery or Sunday school classes. If possible, accompany them to their desired destination. 5. Remember last impressions. Be sure to greet worshippers as they leave and be available to answer questions after worship.
Source: Acolytes, Ushers and Greeters DVD (EcuFilm, United Methodist Communications)