UBA Sr. Consultant Josh Ellis and Rick Branek will be leading a seminar called "Opening the Front Door: Learning the Art of Welcoming People"on January 21, 2014. Click here for registration information.
Story by Reagan O'Hare
Research proves a smile, a thoughtful action or just a word of welcome makes a huge impact on church guests. According to Rick Branek, church guests know within eight minutes if they are going to return. Branek said if churches provide friendly greeters, and pay attention to the church’s physical environment and safety, they can make a lasting impact.
Branek said the impact of a greeter’s time is immeasurable. And the impact extends from the parking lot to the pew.
The greeting ministry is composed of four points in the church where lives are touched with a smile or an offer for help or assistance: parking lot help, greeters at the door, bulletins are given with a smile and ushers help guests to find their seats, he said.
Branek, formerly the front porch ministry leader at River Pointe Church of Richmond, Texas, said the first impression greeters impact guests’ decisions to return in a mere eight minutes.
At River Pointe, Branek said guest services were modeled after an image of a home. Branek helped cover the “front porch.” “There were three basic areas people enter: the front porch, the living room and the kitchen.” As visitors get more involved in church, they move into the living room. Front porch events included a father/daughter dance.
He said the church’s greeting ministry should not only follow the model of hospitality, but greeters should also be focused in unity. “As Front Porch pastor, my volunteers had to have my culture; they had to be a duplicate of me.
“My eyes were on the front porch, my ears, etc., and I took the time to get leaders trained to do that.” Branek continued, “And, so knowing that the clock was ticking, the font porch parking team has got to be engaged.”
Branek said the greeter ministry helps prepare hearts for the message. It’s about a bigger picture, he explained.
“Matthew 13:11-15 tell the parable of the sowers, and the seed falls on different types of ground,” Branek explained, “Well at the end of that Jesus says, ‘Those that have ears can hear and there are those with their ears shut.’
“Here’s the thing, guests could be someone coming into the church for the first time, or someone who has been burned out and their ears are closed, and our job is to lower their anxiety and allow people to feel comfortable, and in that, we are priming the pump: allowing the Gospel to be showered on them so that the seed lands on (good) soil.”
When greeters are friendly and sincere Branek said guests’ lives are touched and they will want to come back.
And, beyond being friendly, churches need to focus on making the environment appealing as well. Physical environments, like landscaping, focal points, signs, aroma and ambient noise are significant factors. “If you are the first person to see it, instantly your senses go into overload and it’s not very welcoming.
“(Regular attendees) don’t see it anymore, but as a guest, I walk in and see this floor needs to be waxed.
“Be meticulous about the church environment, dust and stains.”
Greeters hand out bulletins, meet people in the parking lot with a smile, help guests know where to go, and lend a hand. “People can experience worship in a way that’s life-changing and we get to be one of those agents that helps with that,” he said.
A feeling of safety is valuable for guests too. “We may be driving a golf cart, but still allowing somebody to be comfortable.
“But parents now think, ‘This is going to be okay because if they thought this much about helping me from point A to point B, I know that the building’s going to be awesome.’”
Branek said sometimes touching lives is about planning ahead to provide the simple things. He said when guests know a church cares, they will want to come back and invite their friends.
Churches that take time to sweep away debris, make walkways clean on a rainy day, or leave a bucket on the curb for wet umbrellas, make an impression. “Greeters can walk people from the parking lot area and into the building, carpet runners can be put out when the lobby is slippery,” he suggested.
And, he said, it makes a difference in church growth, “The guests become the voice for what they experience at church and they tell their co-workers, ‘Listen, and come with me.’”
Branek said churches can have the best building, best land, best music and preaching, but if they miss the eight-minute rule, they end up missing a critical element of outreach.
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” Branek said, “The greeting ministry is the front lines just like worship.
“It’s setting the table so that the pastor can deliver the meal, the people can eat, and then they can’t wait to come back for next week.”
Branek’s thirty years of ministry include youth ministry, music ministry and pastoral ministry. He also worked in guest relations for the San Diego Padres baseball club. Rick resides in Sugar Land, Texas, with his wife Theresa of 24 years, daughter Rachel and son Conner.