January 26, 2015

Generalists Do Talk to Strangers

Generalists know a little about a lot. And, generalists, even if they are introverts, can talk to strangers for a few minutes. So, these people can be an asset in welcoming a wide variety of church visitors. Put some generalists to work as greeters. I am a generalist, and I enjoy reaching out to church visitors.

What are the strengths of a generalist? Any factual information that a visitor reveals is interesting to a curious generalist. No person's occupation seems insignificant, and no hobby seems too trivial. The generalist sees these facts as an opportunity to learn new things.

A generalist, even if she is unwavering about certain doctrines, is not usually threatening to first-time visitors. For example, she approaches a stranger with, "Do you live nearby?" instead of "Do you think that Puritan William Perkins' views on the sovereignty of God were forceful enough?"

The generalist's sincere interest in others' interests puts new people at ease. A nervous visitor might say to herself, "There is at least one person in this church who didn't ignore me once she knew more about me."

Based on my experience, here are some general hints that will help in meeting new people.
  • Start with love. Your motive should be to minister to people's souls. You want them to hear the truth of the Word in your church, to believe it and to put it into practice in their lives.
  • Brush up on points of contact. Know the locations of the children's Sunday school rooms. Find out who is playing in Super Bowl XLIX. Memorize the date of the next church social event. Learn more about key people in the church who like meeting visitors. Keep up-to-date on a few current events and what is happening in pop culture.
  • Look in the corners. Some visitors feel awkward in a new situation because they have no familiar person to talk to. Seek them out and make a connection, using your generalist skills.
  • Be sincere. Don't fake interest to make a "sale." You are attempting to get to know new people not trying to manipulate them into church membership. Greeting is a ministry, not a project.
  • Keep the questions to a minimum. For some people, being peppered with inquiries from a stranger is as intense as taking the SATs. Let the visitor set the pace.
  • Open up. Share a bit of information about yourself. to put the visitor at ease. Sometimes I say things like, "I used to be a Baptist. How about you?" If possible, tell the visitor what attracted you to your church.
  • Take the hint. If you meet unresponsiveness, warmly say, "I am glad you visited," and move on.  Don't take it personally. As hard as it is to accept, this might be the rare person who doesn't like golden retriever puppies because they greet people enthusiastically.
  • Expand the visitor's horizons. Introduce him or her to another church member. A generalist will know exactly who to pick because of her general knowledge of the congregation. The family who lives in the visitor's neighborhood. That man who works in the same industry. The single woman who is getting her pilot's license.
  • Get beyond superficial when possible. Hopefully, your relationship with the visitors will develop beyond questions like, "Where do you work?." It may take a few weeks of conversation to get there. Keep in mind that Christianity (and your church's ministry) involves deep concepts like sin, the love of God, the renewal of your mind and encouraging one another to love and good deeds. Even a broad generalist gets that.
A note to pastors' wives: I am not ashamed of being a pastor's wife. But, I don't mention it right away in a conversation with a stranger. In my particular locale, being approached by a pastor's wife can be very scary. Sometimes people in my area take a literal step backwards when they learn about my role. So, I want them to see me as a "normal" person before I bring it up. Please pay attention to the reaction you get where you live and plan accordingly.


  1. I will use this with my ladies' class. Wonderful (and funny) thoughts, especially the question about Puritan views. As an introvert, I can identify with much here and have on occasion shut down conversation by the admission that I am a pastor's wife. A conversation killer if I've ever seen one,

  2. I finally have a name for myself! I'm a generalist! Haha! I really liked this article, thank you. But I like even more the implications of how well you work to know the local body. I need to keep working on that. I'm not a pastor's wife, our ministry takes a different shape, but I think that it's so important for us all to know those ways that we can help other people make connections.
    I would love to visit your church sometime, but it's quite a commute. :)


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