While watching a movie yesterday, the film depicted a spoof on church. After some cringy worship music, the pastor asked everyone to greet one another. Cheesy smiles ensued, as the subjects of the movie, visitors to the church, tried not to look stiff as they shook the mitts ofthose around them.
After everyone was seated, a gaggle of old women in exaggerated costumes, carrying flags, entered the stage. Loud Christian rock began to play as the women eagerly waved the flags so quickly, one would have thought they were trying to shoo away a swarm of killer bees.
Every aspect of the dramatized church depiction was familiar to me. However, when this scene was played up just a little, I suddenly saw the whole event as an outsider. These people were weird. Weird and fake. Weird, fake, and unwelcoming.
As “church people” we can often forget how intimidating it is stroll into a new church. It requires walking into a building full of new people with strange music and scarily enthusiastic preachers. Stomping. Bible waving. Old ladies with flags.
The fancy “Bible speak” we use can seem foreign and uncomfortable to visitors. This awkwardness is compounded if we don’t take the time to engage new people in conversation.
Naturally, we want visitors to stay. We achieve this through conversation. Here are three tips informulating a welcoming exchange.
Every good conversationalist has an arsenal of questions. Like Jordan’s are to a basketball player. Like chilis are to the kitchen of a Pueblo mother. So are artful inquiries to a Jesus freak.
Two categories of questions exist. 1. Basic questions 2. Follow-up questions (there are also follow-up statements). Basic questions provide a foundation for conversation.
Here are essential questions to keep in your arsenal:
• Where are you from?
• How did you hear about this church?
• What do you do for a living?
• What do you like to do in your free time?
Always start with asking their name. Of course. That’s common sense. Goes without saying. I just said it. So maybe it doesn’t go without saying.
Then there are the follow-up questions:
• Where are you from? – Do you like that side of town? Have you always lived there?
• How did you hear about this church? – We’re glad you came! Do you have any questions about our church?
• What do you do for a living? – Do you like it? What’s your favorite part? What’s your least favorite part?
• What do you like to do in your free time? – How did you discover you liked that activity?
There are endless ways these questions can end, so it’s important to...
Getting to know someone requires listening to what they say. Duh. This mantra is waved by every married woman everywhere. JUST LISTEN. Be invested in making a visitor feel comfortable and understood.
Simple body-language techniques let people know you’re listening. If you’re sitting down, place an elbow on our knee and rest your chin in our hand. Lean in the direction of the other person. This lets them know they have your undivided attention. Even if your mind wanders to what you’re going to eat tomorrow. Burritos. Maybe pizza. No, snails. Bon appetite.
If you aren’t sitting down, establish a stance that is open and inviting. Don’t cross your arms (this signals defense). It’s best to keep your feet shoulder distance apart with your hands relaxed at your side. Or flailing about to animate your questions and responses. Either one.
3. Give Feedback
Sometimes we only have enough time to talk for 30 seconds. Other times, we may need to talk for an hour. Thus, coupled with our arsenal of questions, we must have an arsenal of answers.
Your conversation partner might want to know a little bit about you. Keep your answers short, and always look for segways into new topics. It’s important to keep the conversation fresh. But only if the other person is continually interested in talking to you. Don’t force them into a prison of conversational hellfire. Also, don’t say “hell.”
If you think the conversation has reached an end, there are several phrases you can use to end the exchange:
• It was great meeting you! I hope to see you soon.
• I’m so glad you came today. You seem like a really cool person.
• Well, I hope to see you next weekend. Have a fantastic week!
It’s important to know how to have a successful social exchange anywhere and at any time. Conversational skills are even more imperative when welcoming new people into your church.
Christ was magnetic, and made people feel important. Because people ARE important. In striving to be more like Christ, it requires us to tweak little parts of our lives (like conversation) to continually glorify Him.
So, goodbye. It was nice chatting. See you next week.