For years, many of us have been well-schooled on the need for effective hospitality ministries at the front door of the church. We’ve worked hard to train our greeters and ushers to be smiling beacons of welcome to those who enter our doors. Of course, we’ve probably still got a lot of work to do in that area as “friendly” churches continue to be friendly to each other while guests often give us mixed reviews.
Recent times have added awareness of other places where hospitality is equally valued. Today, larger churches place greeters in the parking lot, smiling in their orange safety vests and pointing us to the best available places for our automobiles, these asphalt denizens help get the morning off to an excellent start.
But what about the big room? Who is on duty in the auditorium to make sure guests are having a positive experience? In many churches, the front door greeter is the last line of real welcome and newcomers are left to drift down the hallway and into the auditorium along with the flow of the crowd. Is that a good plan?
Once inside the auditorium, guests can be ignored until that brief moment in the service when we “welcome” each other. Shouldn’t we maintain contact a bit better than that?
For example, where do you want your guests to sit? Now your first instinct might be to say, “Wherever they’re comfortable.” While that answer is considerate, do guests really know where they might be most comfortable? Probably not.
Do you want them to sit down front? I’d say no to that idea. Sure the front might be free of distractions and allow greater focus on the service, but those who are more demonstrative in worship sit down there. Such folks might frighten a guest. Also the closer they are to the front, the more guests might feel on display, so let’s not seat them there.
Of course, the back isn’t a great option either. People who sit toward the back are often given to greater distractions. Over-active children teach their parents to sit back there. Also, those who engage in activities other than listening and participating tend to sit toward the back.
Now the middle can be good, but not just any middle. Why not seat your guests near someone who is very friendly or someone who might be at a similar place in life. Seating your guests near people that could be instant friends accelerates the assimilation process by increasing the chances for relationships to start.
If no one in the auditorium is watching for guests or available to seat them, how will they find their way? Placing a greeter in the auditorium for this purpose can help ensure your guests will have the best possible experience. You can ask an usher to do this, but this is too important to be cared for by someone with other responsibilities. Perhaps an usher who is not on duty this week could be the best option.
Also, don’t miss the gap between arrival and the start of the service. These auditorium greeters can be ready to extend the church’s welcome during this gap. Introducing new friends to people their age or others with hospitality gifts can make a big difference. Don’t overload or overwhelm them, but don’t just leave them to the stares of your less-welcoming people.
They’re your guests so take responsibility for them and their experience in your “house.” Treat them with kindness and provide them with the information they request. And be sure to say “goodbye” to them effectively too. Make sure their last thought of your church, along with all previous thoughts, is a friendly one.