The Key to Unlocking Hearts for Worship: Pastor’s Role in Selecting and Equipping Greeters

One of the most important elements of a person’s church experience is often overlooked by the church staff. It’s not unlike going to a doctor’s office. The attitude and greeting of the receptionist can make or break our experience. I had an outstanding dentist who did fantastic work on my teeth, but I dreaded going there because the initial contact person, the receptionist, was rude and indifferent. I spent too much time with my teeth clenched, stomach churning with too much anxiety because of the unfriendly “setup” she had given me.

Church greeters have the holy opportunity to participate in “setting up” a great worship experience. God uses greeters as the key that unlocks hearts.

Here are some things that pastors can do to enhance this ministry.

Recruit a Greeter Leader Who Gets It

An effective greeter leader is someone who is confident, friendly, prayerful, and sensitive; smiles easily; establishes eye contact; is a great matchmaker (introducing newcomers to regular attenders who have some commonality), organized, and emotionally perceptive; has great follow-through; and loves kids. Sounds like a great catch, huh?  It’s also important for that person to buy in to the mission of your church. If your church is focused on welcoming unchurched people, it would be important for that leader to be in sync with that vision.

I used to love going to Moe’s, a fast-food Mexican restaurant, because the staff seemed so friendly—each time I went they would yell out, “Welcome to Moe’s!” But then when I noticed it was each and every time someone came in, the welcome started feeling empty, disingenuous, and rehearsed. I judged the dining experience by the welcome I received.

Not everyone wants a warm, friendly, chatty greeting. In fact, I was shocked to hear from my introverted friends that they prefer a brief simple greeting.  My unchurched friends have told me how uncomfortable it is to hear everyone saying “Happy Sabbath.” They feel excluded, as they don’t feel comfortable speaking Adventist lingo. Many people are just delighted with a simple “Good morning!  Welcome!” Others who you suspect are guests may appreciate, “Hi, I’m Eileen.  Have we met? Are there any questions I can answer for you?” I’m told that introverts are very uncomfortable with eye contact and prefer a short/brief welcome. Giving a special uniquely-designed-for-them greeting makes them feel loved, secure, and open to the church experience. 

Effective greeters breathe a little prayer for the person or family that they see coming toward the church. They ask God to move them toward that individual. Most parents (and little ones) are delighted when you give a warm, friendly greeting to even the littlest members of the family. What parent isn’t proud to have their child noticed? So here’s the thing: this greeter leader may be difficult to identify. You may need to model all of this, hanging around in the entryway, greeting the way you’d love to see your greeters do. Pastors are busy, but if you can model it here and there, your investment will pay off.

Elevate Your Greeting Ministry to a Leading Ministry

Instill that idea in your greeting team. Let them know how important this ministry is, and that it’s much more than just passing out bulletins. Consider putting the greeter leader on your board or leadership team. Have them involved in the major vision and planning of the church. Tell them “Thank you” every now and then. Remember that they’re volunteers, they likely have a full-time job, and are doing this because they love God and people.

Ask Your Greeter Team to Have Regular Meetups

This should be at least quarterly, with the goal of the team becoming a small group who will seek God together, pray, talk about their successes and opportunities, and inspire each other. Some teams turn it into a social opportunity and have potlucks together, then share experiences, review the mission or vision of the church, and brainstorm about how they can enhance their ministry.

Provide Resources

AdventSource has multiple resources that are affordable, such as First Impact; How to Say Hello Without Saying Goodbye; Extending a Warm and Caring Welcome.  Other books available on Amazon are:  Organized Friendliness, by Les Parrot, or Church Greeters 101, by Christopher Walker, which are excellent tools. There are many online scheduling tools or calendars with automatic e-mail reminders that help keep the team organized and efficient. One church provides its greeters with bright-colored T-shirts, which they ask the greeters to wear for special events. This identifies the greeters as a team of people who are not only “welcomers” but also people who can answer questions or give directions.

Prevent Burnout

Encourage your team to constantly recruit new greeters. Feed them names of church attenders who would create a positive first impression for the community.  Encourage your greeter leader by letting them know how important their ministry is and empowering them to do the same for their team. Give them feedback when you hear attendees say, “This is such a friendly church.”

Recently I visited another large SDA church. It was a freezing day, with snow covering the parking lot. Most sensible people would have stayed home and watched the service online. I was surprised to see teams of greeters—men and women—outside, identified by a big silk flower on their lapel (which Michael’s craft store sells for 99 cents each). They opened car doors for people, helping them up each icy step with a warm greeting that exhibited their hospitality. The key to my heart was turned, and my “door” was wide open to worship and hearing God’s Spirit that morning. I still have a warm spot in my heart thinking about the worship experience of that day.  It all started with the greeting.

Some questions to consider from Church Greeters 101, by Christopher Walker:

1.   How vital is your greeter ministry?
2.   How often does your greeter team meet?
3.   How effective is your current training plan?
4.   How happy is your greeter leader?
5.   How often do you recruit greeters?

Eileen Gemmell serves as a nurse practitioner for Erikson Retirement Communities.