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I am a Church Nerd (“CN” – patent pending). I know. That’s quite a confession to make. Part of being a CN means that, when I’m on vacation, I like visiting churches. You can only imagine the teenaged eye rolling during past trips when I mentioned making a church stop. “Maaaawum, not again.” Yes, again. “Are you kidding?” No, I am not kidding. Nothing, not even beautiful-but-bratty teenagers could stop this CN from her quest.
I continue to drop by churches to check out what they are doing, to pick up tips, and to see if there is a sense of excitement about the church and its mission. I want to know its story. When I make a stop, it’s almost always in the middle of the week. As a result, the first person I usually meet is the Office Manager or Administrative Assistant.
Let me tell you about four recent experiences:
1. Blah: This past summer I was back east. The home I was staying in was within walking distance of a beautiful large UMC church. It took me awhile to find the office (CNs are rarely deterred) and when I walked into the office, everyone looked at me like I was a ghost. No smile, no “hello,” just a look of “who are you and how did you find this office?” Four people gathered round me (probably because of my intimidating 5’2” stature). I finally broke the ice by introducing myself. And then they introduced themselves to me – and one was the associate pastor!
2. Lovely: This last week I was back in my old stomping grounds and went by my childhood UMC church in Glendora, CA. I was out for a morning walk. It was raining, I hadn’t taken a shower, and I looked less than pulled together. Despite that, the front office person, Kandy, was very warm and welcoming. After I introduced myself, she chatted like I was a long-lost friend, gave me a tour, and written info about the church – all of which left me happy and feeling uplifted.
3. Ugh: About six months ago I stopped by a church, not far from where I live, to put up a poster. To get in, I had to ring a doorbell (I am assuming for security purposes). The Administrative Assistant came out, nary a smile, and guarded me from crossing the threshold. After telling me that she couldn’t/wouldn’t put up the sign, the door closed, and that was that.
4. Lovely: At the UMC church in Chagrin Falls, OH, I walked in and met the Administrative Secretary, Connie. She immediately flashed a big and genuine smile, got up, and offered to take me around the church. I was taken in by her warmth and enthusiasm. I was not an intrusion to her day. I was a blessing to it. She was doing “ministry.” I left there feeling better than when I had walked in.
Your front line office person might be the first (and only) impression of your congregation or organization that someone ever gets. She or he can be the open welcome that says, “I’d love to see you at church on Sunday.” Or, sadly, that same person can give off the message, “You are an outsider. Outsiders aren't really welcome here.”
Have you empowered your front line people to be in ministry? Have you given them training on how to be a welcoming presence? As evidenced above, for some people it does not come naturally. It may take coaching. But what a difference it can make. These important people can tell your story – either positive or negative – in mere minutes. Don’t believe it? Take it from a certified Church Nerd.