I know I’ve said this before, but pastors like me make church growth too complicated sometimes. “It’s about the right programs! It’s about the right music! It’s about solid biblical preaching!” All of those things are well and good, but here’s what I’ve experienced: seeing your church grow can sometimes be as simple as knowing a name. When guests come to your church (and they do every week), they’re searching. They’re searching for a home. They’re searching for a place to belong. They want it to be your church. But you’ve got to make their experience warm and welcoming. And yes, you’ve got to go over the top to learn names and faces.
Case in point: there’s a family that has visited our church off and on for a few months. After they’d gotten on our radar, I found them on Facebook, friend requested them, got my ‘creep’ on, and tried to memorize their names and faces, so that if they ever came back I could call them by name. Seems a bit over the top, I know. Why all the hard work? Isn’t my job just to “preach the Word?” My job is to preach, but so much more than that. Preachers love to preach. That’s what they train for. What they don’t love all the time is all the people work. But you can’t be a very successful preacher if you don’t have anyone to preach to! So, I tried to learn their names and faces.
Lo and behold, this family came to church again Sunday, and I was able to call them by name. We made small talk for about a minute. Nothing deep, nothing super substantial. Here’s the message I got from the wife the day after:
I wanted to tell you something…I wanted you to know how much it meant to me yesterday morning when you came over to speak to us at church that you called me by name. I was very surprised…and very pleased. My family and I have been looking for a while for a home church…and we have visited Mt Vernon the most. I, myself, have felt for some time that it was a place that I’d like to be a part of and small things like you coming over and knowing my name, confirms that for me.
Sing great songs. Preach great sermons. But remember that sometimes it’s the smallest things, like names and faces, that makes all the difference. Don’t ever use the excuse “I’m not good with names” anymore. That’s a crutch. Kick it to the curb and start learning names. You’ll be glad you did.
This past Sunday at church I met several new families at Mt Vernon Church, but I was able to make a huge impression on two of them. How? I knew their names. The small thing a pastor can do to make a huge impression is know somebody’s name before he even meets them. How is this possible? Take my situation for example.
On the first family, they walked in the doors just as the early service was about to start. We didn’t have but a moment to speak but the dad said, “I’m Jennifer’s* brother.” I know Jennifer. Her and her family come to our second service. I texted Jennifer during the first service and asked her the names of her brother and his family. She gave me all four. About 60 seconds before the first service ended and they would walk by me in the back, I glanced down at the text, memorized the four names of the family, and called them all by name as they exited. They later told Jennifer that they were extremely impressed that I knew their names.
With the second couple I had help from another church member. About five minutes before the second service started, a regular member said, “I met a new Air Force couple today, they’re sitting right up there and their names are Todd* and Shannon*.” Taking that cue, I introduced myself to Todd and Shannon and called them by name the first time I saw them. They were both impressed that I already knew them by name. Just by watching their non-verbal cues, they seemed cared for and validated because the pastor already knew their names. Even though they would have to make the 30 minute drive from the base every week, they said that they really enjoyed our church and would be back.
It takes a little bit extra work, but believe me, learning names on the front end makes a huge impression.
At a recent church function, a new church family came up and gave me a nice compliment. They were impressed that I knew their names and their children’s names. They know that Mt Vernon isn’t a small church. There were several hundred that called Mt Vernon home when I got here, and in 2012, several hundred more have visited. This couple had visited and gotten plugged in within the last few months. They haven’t gotten plugged into a Life Group yet, so they don’t know a lot of people. Yet I know them and their family. They said, “You must have a gift when it comes to names and faces.”
Here’s the secret: I work really, really hard at getting to know names and faces. That’s why I’m an unashamed Facebook stalker. If you’re on Facebook, game over. Our church database (F1) has the ability to add pics next to names in our directory. I’ve personally spent hours and hours adding over 300 new pictures from Facebook to recently attended guests. Why? Because once you know someone’s name, they’re no longer a stranger. They’re family.
Regular attenders expect you to know them, guests don’t. Here’s the easiest way to help a guest become a regular attender. Learn their name. Call them by name the next time they come to church. Once you know their name, they’ll no longer feel like a stranger. They’ll feel like they belong. Game over.
The truth is I’m not a natural with names. If I meet someone face-to-face and learn their name, nine times out of ten I’ll forget it. So I have to work at it. Constantly. My “Mt Vernon Faces” album on iPhoto currently has 513 pictures in it. I’ve got about 85% of those faces locked in. That’s 436 men, women and children I can call by name when they show up at Mt Vernon. That’s a lot of work, but it’s well worth it. Every name you know is another soul you can impact for eternity. Work hard at names and faces. It will always pay off.
Image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net