Last week I talked about the importance of making coffee hour more inviting by making it less intimate. This makes it a more accessible space where visitors don't feel they are intruding. Remember, worship is not a place where people can readily connect with other people. Coffee hour is generally the first place a visitor has the opportunity to form relationships.
Now I want to address the question of helping people get to coffee hour. Think of
the path from the worship space to the coffee space as a driveway with a
"speed bump." Getting people over the "speed bump" is a lot easier if your members are giving guests a
helping hand. Remember, coffee hour is not the be-all and end-all of fellowship, but it is the place where most people start.
We have to turn our people into inviters.
I spent my first two years helping our members develop the habit of
inviting visitors to coffee hour. How? Simple. I made this a part of every
committee meeting. There is no committee for whom this is not their
job. At each meeting I spent a few minutes talking up this larger
responsibility. I encouraged the "regulars" to change where they usually sit, so that they might meet more new
people (newcomers usually sit near exits). I
encouraged them to introduce themselves and personally invite visitors
to join them for coffee. The
point was making sure that every person in any sort of leadership position
feels it is her/his job to welcome our guests. This was not a one-time pitch; it was a sustained message delivered every month for many months.
In our worship space, as with many churches, some paths lead toward coffee hour while some lead toward the parking lot. I jokingly refer to the latter as "escape routes", and I encourage my leaders to pay particular attention to guests leaving by those doors. I told my leaders that it's their job to play "goalie" at those doors and keep the guests from getting past them!
Of course this isn't obnoxious. It's just a simple matter of introducing themselves and inviting them to stay for coffee. A lot of times the response is "not this week, but perhaps next time." And that's okay. It means the person didn't escape unnoticed. A guest doesn't want to be hounded, but he/she generally would like to be noticed in a subtle way.
Some of my folks worried about possibly offending longtime members if they mistake them for visitors. My suggestion is that you always put the onus on yourself, not the guest. Do not ask: "Are you visiting?" That puts pressure on them. It is easier to put the implied blame on yourself by saying something like: "I don't believe we've met. My name is Rich. Will you join me for a cup of coffee?" If the person is new, they will probably then say so: "My name is Jane. It's my first time here." But either way, it's an inoffensive way of introducing yourself.
We need to make sure that everyone, especially all of our leaders, sees it as their job to be welcomers. And you know what? It changed more than our welcome process; it changed the atmosphere of our church, because an attitude of welcome is contagious.