Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Problem with Ushers and Greeters

I am still on the topic of welcoming people, and in this blog I plan to share about the problems with ushers and greeters. But first, let me tell you strait forward what I like to see at churches.

First, I like to see good signage. I will write about the church’s main sign in a later post, but for right now I mean two types of signs. I like to see the prime and closest parking spaces marked for “Guests” or “Visitors.” If you want to lessen resistance to this idea, tell your members that if they are running late, they can park in any of these spots because visitors to your church won’t come late, except, of course, if they are long time Episcopalians. These signs also remind members that you are expecting guests. I also like to see buildings marked clearly; for example, Christian Education Building, Parish Hall and, believe it or not, worship or sanctuary. On the interior, it is great to have signs directing guests to such important services as a nursery or restrooms.

Second, I especially like to see an “Information Table” at the entrance to the church building. On this place bulletins, current church newsletters, and attractive brochures on highlighted areas of ministry. Don’t forget a simple brochure on the Episcopal Church, and one on “How to become a member of this Church.” You see the importance of such a kiosk at the local mall. I usually suggest that you recruit a woman between 30 and 40 years of age who is a strong extrovert who is to stand a few feet away from this table. Believe me, she will know what to do.

We use a “connection card” at the Cathedral and we ask EVERYONE to fill it out EVERY service. I got this idea from the book “Fusion” by Nelson Searcy. This is a great tool in newcomer ministry. We went from almost never getting visitor names and addresses to almost always getting them plus email addresses. I respond to visitors with email, not just a welcoming letter. In another blog, I’ll mention some things in following up. We also practice “The Three Pew Ministry” at the Cathedral, but that too is for a later blog.

So, what is wrong with ushers? Where else in America do you find men in dark (black) suites? The answer is, of course, at funeral homes. Do have ushers and recruit families (yes, even children) who look like the people you are trying to attract. Train them to do more than hand out bulletins. Teach them the best places to seat guests – center and in the isle seats. It took me, by the way, three years to over come the long tradition of having older male ushers in suites at the Cathedral. I say this to remind you that, even when you know this stuff, change comes hard.

And Greeters? Studies show that churches with Greeters who wear “Greeter” badges are less friendly than those that don’t. This is because once you announce to your members that you have a “Greeters Ministry,” they abandon owning the responsibility for Christian hospitality to visitors. (Visit the previous blog, or the next one on how to empower better hospitality ministry among your members.) We do have Greeters at the Cathedral, but they do not wear distinguishing badges. Their job is to pick up on the people who were missed in our Three Pew Ministry. They stand near the back door at the end of the service close enough to me that I can pass on new people to them.

Before I arrived at the Cathedral, the leadership expanded the traditional “Coffee Hour” after the main service into a “reception.” At this, we provide good food and a much more engaging fellowship. They also added a full breakfast after our 8am service. If I can get a visitor to the reception, I have a much better chance of leading them to become a new member. Get them to the breakfast and it is a done deal!

Before I close this blog, I will mention that famously Bill Hybel’s congregation have members greet people IN THE PARKING LOT!” Remember that people decide within 5 minutes of arriving in your parking lot if they will return again. I know of no Episcopal Congregation that does this. However, St. John’s in Silsbee, Texas used to place their greeters at the main intersection of the parking lot and the main sidewalk up to the Church.

By these standards, how is your congregation in welcoming (the hospitality ministry) new people who visit your church?


  1. I found you after seeing Brene Brown's tweet about following her bishop after I boasted that my bishop (Rickel, Olympia diocese) is on twitter. I'm so glad I did! I have subscribed to your blog and am interested to read more. Thank you!

  2. Thank you. I once served in Olympia and Bishop Rickles is one of my Texas folks. You are blessed to have him.

  3. Kevin, I asked Gay Striklin about you today at Palmer, and she had one of your books on her desk. I knew Greg Rickel, by the way, when he was a deacon at St. Peter's in Conway, AR, and developed some of my core greeting fundamentals partly because of his preaching, writings, and actions.

    You wrote a piece that appeared 7 or 8 years ago in the "Texas Episcopalian" which I have offered up many times around Palmer as required reading. It was the story of your visit to a parish.

    You didn't wear your collar, and you were not graciously welcomed. But then someone did recognize you and asked, "Isn't this the friendliest place?"

    I thought at the time, you could have been writing about Palmer.

    If you can put your hands on the piece you wrote those several years ago, I'd love to see it here.

    I found you, by the way, because our communications director just posted a link on Facebook to your blog. How fortuitous that on a day when I'm asking about you, you are also on the minds of two of my favorite staffers at Palmer.


    Randal Byrd
    Vestryman - Palmer Memorial - Houston

    PS: Here is a piece I wrote for Palmer's monthly about 7 years ago.


  4. Thanks for your good post. I won't be able to locate the article,my emails from when I was at the DoT have been lost, alas.