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Starting a Greeter Program

By Carolyn Copeland

Four years ago I accepted the challenge of evangelism chairperson for our church. One of the first programs the pastor and I developed was the Sunday morning greeter program.

Our church is situated so that persons who enter the church building from the parking lot must go through the education wing (or fellowship hall) and make a 45-degree turn down a narrow hallway to the sanctuary. Visitors probably wonder, Where am I going?

The greeter program was initiated to help direct visitors, but it became a blessing to the entire congregation. This ministry was announced in the church newsletter as one in which everyone could participate. We mainly sought adult greeters, although we allowed children to greet with their parents. Youth classes occasionally made greeting a class project.

Enlisting greeters

Enlisting greeters was no easy task at first. I began calling people as they were listed in the church directory and asked if they would greet during certain months. I did this at least 2 weeks before the first Sunday of each month. If people were reluctant to commit for a whole month, I asked if they would greet for one Sunday in the month; and since we have two services, I asked if they preferred early or late service and which location–education wing or foyer. The four greeters needed each Sunday sometimes were singles, couples, or whole families.

Sunday afternoon was a good time to telephone people because they had just returned from church and were more receptive. I never insisted a member take a turn. I asked those who declined if I could call them another time. Some said flatly, "It’s not my thing." Others said, "Not now. Call me later." I enjoyed talking to those who said, "Yes, we’ll be glad to serve. Put us down for the whole month." People occasionally told me how much they enjoyed the experience–music to my ears. I made a mental note of those members.

I jotted notes beside the names of people who asked to be called later as well as those who refused (some people work on Sundays or have other reasons for not serving). I soon learned who in our 250-member congregation would help with the greeter program.

Reminding greeters

I gave written reminders to the greeters a week before they were to serve either in church on the Sunday prior to their service or mailed the reminders the Monday preceding. The reminders included where and when the greeters promised to serve and special instructions if needed. After members had served one or more times, I replaced the notices with phone calls. Only new greeters received written notes containing special instructions. The evangelism committee sent thank-you notes to greeters after they served.

I kept a greeter chart at home and at church, which made the second year easier. I was then able to say, "You greeted last (name of month). May I count on you to greet again in (name of month)?" Most greeters volunteered for a whole month the second year; in fact, many of them eventually began signing the greeter chart voluntarily. Greeting became a pleasure rather than a chore for many.

Members attended more faithfully during the months they greeted. Most were there every Sunday. The greeter coordinators, however, always must be prepared to substitute. I only had to solicit greeters occasionally. Greeters needed notices were included regularly in the Sunday bulletins and monthly newsletters.

Instructing greeters

Requirements for greeters were sketchy the first year. We asked them to smile, be friendly and helpful, and arrive 15 to 20 minutes before services started. They were asked to greet everyone who came into the church–whether with a handshake or just a smile and a pleasant "good morning." We also asked them to direct visitors and have them sign the guest book.

Greeters are urged to learn one new name each Sunday. If a greeter does not know a person, he asks, "Are you a member? I don’t believe I know your name. I’m (gives his name)." If approached in this manner, most people will say whether they are members and give their names. Some members resent being asked if they are visitors when greeters simply don’t know them.

Our church became more friendly as members learned one another’s names. Greeters’ names were printed in the bulletins and newsletters and on their badges. Some greeters began telling members who were absent the previous week how much they were missed. This practice frequently uncovered family illnesses and other special needs, which were reported to the pastor. Greeter programs usually are successful if greeter coordinators faithfully enlist greeters, remind them of their commitments, and thank them for serving. Remind greeters of Romans 15:7: "Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God" (RSV).