Friday, February 3, 2012

On my church greeter experiences and why I love to love the church

Every day I read Stuff Christians Like. As with most blogs I follow I read them daily and never comment, because I’m horrible like that. Regardless, SCL is a bright spot each day. It’s also the only blog I follow that I don’t follow on google reader. I actually go to the site each day to read it. I have no idea why.

Anyways, today I was reading their newest blog post, “Church Greeter Ninjas”. Now church greeters/welcomers/etc are a subject dear to my heart. I believe the importance of a friendly welcoming face to help you know what’s going on is paramount {fyi, I have no idea if I used the word Paramount correctly there}. However I also believe that is it important to not be two over board or crazy in your greeting.

Growing up in the church, my parents always told me how important this role was. They often volunteered to do it, and helped teach us how to love and welcome others. Most Sundays after church we had people over for lunch, and rarely were those people regulars at our church.

Growing up we went to two different churches; one from birth (and where my parents met and married) until I was 8, and the other from 8 until left home after high school. Since the Youth Group at the new church was for cool kids, and I wasn’t cool I preferred the Youth Group at my old church where I had many friends. My parents wanting to keep me still at their church insisted I go to both Youth Groups…so alternating Fridays I attended two youth groups for years, which means sometimes I ended up back at the old church on Sundays for an event or special presentation.

Both churches were very different, the first church was Baptist. It felt like family and home, but I have only a handful of times seen a hand raised in worship…and by raised I mean lifted above the leg, and definitely not in the air. I have seen clapping, but Baptist clapping (I can’t fully explain what that is like). They had lovely and wonderful family traditions, and a real church building! The newer one was charismatic, Holy Spirit feeling, Vineyard music playing and had a dance team! In flowing skirts! They played all the newest songs, including ones our Worship Pastor had made up. We did actions and sang loudly. There were skits. We had church in School Gym’s.

The one thing these churches had in common (other than a their belief in Jesus) was how welcoming they were to new people. Both had greeters that were welcoming, warm and kind. They helped but did not overwhelm. It was beautiful to watch. I still love to go back to those churches because you can tell when you walk in the door that you are wanted there.

When I went away to University I tried to find a church. One of the many that I tried had greeters that basically interrogated you, then forced you to sit with the people they most thoughts you would click with (who then proceeded to not talk to me through the service, week after week). This was super awkward. I went for about 2 months, because the rest of the church time reminded me of my home churches – and the greeter, while overwhelming, seemed kind. But I hated being forced to sit with this one family each week – especially since they ran a small group for young adults and I was a young adult desperate for community and they didn’t even invite me! Clearly I am still hurt by that.

After that I walked away from God – I was tired of church people and I wanted to go out and sin (to be honest). When I finally realized a few years later that that wasn’t the way to live, and rededicated myself to God, I was in another new town and knew I needed to find a church to plug in to. I went to one church where I knew no one…and no one, not even greeters, spoke to me. I cried through the entire service because God was beginning to touch my heart again, and still no one talked to me. I stayed for the coffee time, but when no one talked to me I felt awkward and left. Needless to say I did not return to that church. Later that same day I tried an evening church. This was a younger church where I actually knew quite a few of the people from my old days in young life before I’d walked away from God. Here again, no one spoke to me unless I approached them. Also none of the people I had known were interested in conversing. I joined a bible study there, but still did not meet anyone. Literally, I would walk up to people at church and say, “Hi, my name is Tara. I am new here.” And they would say “oh” and walk away.

Let me tell you – these experiences taught me something very important about church culture. It is not just greeters that need to be friendly –the entire church needs to rally around this hugely important role.

When we are at church WE ARE ALL GREETERS, actually.

This has kind of gotten long but I shall continue.
When I came to the church I am at now, I first went to an event with my sister. So many people talked to me…and not in a weird, “you’re new so we have to” way, but in a “we like you” way. Then I went to church the next day – not only did every one I had met the day before say hi, but also tons of other people too. I felt so loved and welcomed! And I have, ever since then, found my church family.

Now part of the reason this matters so much to me is my make up. In strengths finders my strengths are Woo, Positivity, Arranger, Includer & Empathy. Let me break that down for you:

Woo = people person
Positivity = upbeat
Arranger = wants to arrange people and things in the most optimal ways (ie. Great at making small groups or car ride arrangements)
Includer = always looking for outsiders to draw in
Empathy = feeling for others.

This means I am a happy, welcoming, people person, who cares about how others feels, always wanting to make sure that they feel loved and included, with the know how and drive to make that happen.

My parents also instituted the three person rule early on in our lives. When we switched to the new church, while my parents had friends and all the adults were lovely, we had a very tough time making friends with the other kids (Side note: some of them have now become good friends – but the first 8 years there were pretty tough). We wanted to leave the moment church was over, go sit in our van, and listen to America Top 40 with Ryan Seacrest. We were only allowed to do this on the condition that we talked to three people before leaving. We had to remember one tidbit from each conversation and report back to Mom. This is a genius plot. Seriously. It taught Jenna and I so much. We have both, roughly, taken this rule in to all of life – parties, work, gatherings – we will always have at least three conversations with different people.

My mom also taught me that if I feel awkward at a party, then someone else probably feels awkward at that same party and I should find them so we can not be awkward together. If I feel lonely, then someone else feels lonely, and I should find them so we can talk. Again, Genius!

So between my natural tendencies and my upbringing (and Mom’s rules) this makes me a perfect greeter. And this is exactly why I will never volunteer to be the greeter at my church.

Say what?

Seriously, I have been asked and I will always decline.

I am already a greeter. I don’t need a name tag on my shirt or a bulletin to hand out to go meet new people. I do that in my sleep. Seriously, I can’t stop scanning the church through worship to go find the new people. This makes me happy. I will always meet new people at church on Sunday, and talk to new-ish members as well. This is what makes me tick.
This is not so natural for others. And everyone has the ability within them. Honestly, you do.

So for as long as there are people that need to stretch themselves and learn to stand at the door, smile at people and be helpful, I will never be an official greeter. It brings me such joy to watch friends who think they can’t succeed at this, try and be awesome! I love watching my quiet, ESL friends rock at this. I love watching awkward teens try and succeed. I love seeing people have success in loving people!

And me? I’ll be 10 paces behind them, also talking to the church as they come in…because welcoming people into community is like a drug, I just can’t stay away.

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