Warm. Friendly. Welcoming. These are the words we hope visitors can use to describe our church family. We discuss ways to accomplish this, like stationing greeters at each door or creating a “Welcome Center.” A few months ago Neal and I moved to a new state to worship with a new congregation full of new faces. We’ve been welcomed with invitations to lunch and housewarming gifts. But one young lady really stands out in our minds. Her name is Sydney Elkin and she has managed to make even the auditorium feel warm. So here are some things I’ve learned from a 9-year-old on how to be friendly:
Seek Out the New Faces
Not long after we moved, I was sitting in a pew by myself near the front of the auditorium. A sweet girl walked up to me and smiled. She looked me in the eyes and said, “I just wanted to come talk to you.” I couldn’t help but smile back and say, “Oh! Well, thank you!” We chatted for a minute or two. When she left, I kept smiling.
How simple was that? I’ve since learned that Sydney and her family sit in the back half of the auditorium. She made the decision to walk all the way up to where I was and meet me. The introvert in me is really impressed with her bravery! Sydney’s not a “greeter” but she knows how to greet. I learned from her how impactful it is to go out of your way to talk to someone. Instead of just saying hello to those we come across as we make our way to our pews, we can take a few minutes to seek out visitors or anyone sitting alone. They will definitely feel welcomed by someone who walks over to them with a warm smile and a handshake.
Get Other Members Involved
A couple of weeks ago after a worship service I was standing in the aisle chatting with a few people. Sydney walked up to me with four other young ladies and said, “We just wanted to come talk to you!” I laughed in delight and said, “You did?” Sydney led the conversation by asking questions like, “What are your plans for tomorrow?” I had the sweetest time with those five girls as they stood in a little arch around me for several minutes. I still felt the warmth as I told Neal about it on the way home.
Aside from the fact that Sydney is obviously a remarkable young lady, what a wonderful thing to do! All four of those other girls are equally sweet but may not have been comfortable going to talk to someone on their own. Sydney encouraged them to join her and I benefited from it. It’s such a good idea. When we see a visitor, a loner, a shy person, a teen, or a widow, we can round up a couple of folks and say, “Let’s go say ‘hi’!” It will certainly make anyone feel special but it will also help the members being pulled in. It will gradually create a culture of congregational warmth and friendliness.
Add a Thoughtful Gesture
This past Sunday morning, Sydney walked up to Neal and me and handed us an envelope. It contained a handwritten note with some sweet compliments. She also wrote, “I would love to help you with anything I could.” Have I mentioned she’s NINE years old? Our hearts melted.
Sydney knows the meaning of follow-through. She keeps thinking of ways to engage us and make us feel welcome. Now we have a colorful note that will make us smile every time we see it. All it took was a little time from a thoughtful soul. A local jam or muffins, some wildflowers from your yard, or even a cute sticker (why not?)…there are many creative, tangible ways to bring a smile. It’s a second-mile gesture that sends a big message: You’re special. You’re thought of. We’re glad you’re here.
I’ve learned a lot about friendliness from Sydney. Nothing she did felt awkward or scripted or forced. Her enthusiasm didn’t come across in an overwhelming way. She just shared her sweet self in a natural way. It was genuine and just right. I’ve started praying that I will be more like Sydney. Thank you, God, for this mighty example from a tender heart!