Have you ever walked into a church and not one person said a word to you? Yes, there may have been a greeter who half smiled, mumbled hello, and gave you a bulletin, but that was it. You sat down, and then pretended to read the bulletin just so you wouldn’t feel uncomfortable that no one was speaking to you. After the service, it was the same; no one spoke to you. You walked out the door feeling disillusioned, never to return. I’ve had these experiences and, for obvious reasons, I did not go back to those churches.
Then I found a Unity spiritual community I fell in love with and began attending regularly. I immediately joined the Usher/Greeter Ministry because I never wanted anyone to feel unwelcome. Whenever anyone came through that door, regardless if they were a member or were new, I would give them a friendly hello and a handshake or a hug, depending upon which they were open to receive. I would then introduce them to as many as I could who might be standing nearby. If they were sitting alone in the sanctuary, I would try to find someone who would sit with them.
It is said that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. By greeting people with warmth, friendliness, and enthusiasm (whether they are a newcomer or a long-time attendee), it shows we are living our Unity Principles, and the newcomer is made aware of this as soon as they walk in the door.
So how can we, as Unity communities, make sure that newcomers, as well as members, keep returning?
1. Make sure you have greeters who are friendly and who will warmly welcome every single person who walks in the door, whether they have been there before or not.
2. If it is a newcomer or someone you don’t know, ask if they prefer a handshake or a hug. Some people do not like to be hugged, or hugging in a spiritual setting is new to them.
3. If someone is new, talk to them for a few moments, if possible (without ignoring anyone else who may come in). Ask a few questions about who they are, where they live, and make sure to tell them you are happy they are here. Ask them to sign the guest book, if you have one.
4. Give newcomers a packet that has the community’s information and explain to them what is in the packet. If it has a newcomer’s information card, ask them if they would please fill it out and put it in the offering bag. Do not force them to fill one out. Be sure to explain that no one will come to visit or call them (if that’s your policy), because there are many people who do not want to be contacted. A good policy is to send them a card thanking them for coming and letting them know that you are there for them if they need you.
5. Introduce them to several people around you so that they have someone to talk to after being greeted. If possible, also introduce them to the minister.
6. During the service, be sure to acknowledge all newcomers with a friendly, but general welcome. Be aware that some people dislike being the center of attention, so be sensitive to the need for less attention.
7. After the service, be sure to thank newcomers for coming. If you have a potluck or workshop after the service, invite them to join in and show them the way. Again, make sure they have someone to talk to so that they are not left sitting alone.
8. Invite them back and be sure to let them know that if they have any questions, they may call the contact number provided in the information packet.
9. The main thing is to impress upon the newcomer that they are welcome in your spiritual home. You want people, newcomers and members, to feel loved and nurtured. You want them to be able to look forward to returning week after week, and to know that they will always have a “family” available to them whenever needed.
If you are a friendly, welcoming community, you can be sure that people will return. Just doing the above can make a huge difference and can greatly influence someone’s spiritual journey. Remember, we never know what someone is going through. Your spiritual community may be the only light in their darkness. Let us all be the example of love and light.
Published in the Unity “Contact” Magazine Summer 2013 issue.