Effective Ideas about Greeting Visitors to Orthodox Parishes

The advice below works equally well for new missions and even older churches needing a new start. This is all based upon our 38 years of experience using greeter teams at the front door of the Church. I am now advising over 20 GOA churches of the Detroit Metropolis’, as a member of their Evangelism and Outreach Committee, on how to greet a newcomer. At my St. Luke Church to this day, we have 6 sets of 2 Greeters each rotating each Sunday.

Lee Kopulos

Chairman, Share the Faith

For more on good missionary practices,  see our previous blog post The Important Factors in Mission Founding

Effective Ideas about the Greeting                  

Info for the Greeters on Being Hospitable

As all of you know, our primary job is to offer the guest hospitality.  This means the guest is to feel welcomed, relaxed and “at home.”

The reality is that the Church is people.

Be aware of these important features of the “Welcome”:

  • First time guests show up early – 15 minutes before Liturgy starts. Never seen this fail in 38+ years of service!  Therefore, all Greeters must be in the Narthex at least 15 minutes early.
  •  Upon entry always greet with that Great Smile
  • If the newcomers are not Orthodox just seat them mid-way and tell them to watch and listen to the hymns. No Liturgy Book is necessary. Of course, if they are Orthodox give them a Liturgy Book.
  • If the newcomer asks why candles are being lit or why icons are kissed/venerated? You should answer simply: candles are lit because Christ is the light of the world; icons represent saints and are reflections of who we are to be like and / or a biblical event of Christ’s saving grace.
  • Point out where the bathrooms are located or a coat can be hung.
  • Invite them to Fellowship Hall after Liturgy;
  • If the guests have children, be sure to inform them of Church School and where the rooms can be found.  Churches with great, not just good, children’s programs have a leg up when it comes to church growth and retention. If your parish doesn’t have a program, seriously consider one.
  • Make sure to ask about cell phones – keep muted or off.

Most Importantly:

  • Your parish should have a Church Brochure as a handout -Summarizing church name and short history with vital information such as address/phone; website; hours of service; Priest’s background; lay ministries and other significant functions serving the local the community.
  • Ancient Faith Media has a few very fine colorful handouts as well – Use them too for they briefly give excellent descriptions of our Faith and Church History from the time of Christ. These are:
    • A Timeline of Church History
    • Welcome!
    • What on Earth is the Orthodox Church?
  • Ask the guest to fill-out an “Info Card” for pickup later and for a Priest’s Welcome after Liturgy.
  • Do not use any kind of “insider language” with the newcomers! Most guests have never heard the terms:  prokeimenon, tone, gospel, epistle, introit, invocation, doxology or homily to name a few.  Even doing one’s cross is something very new for many visitors.  Many visitors may not even know the Lord’s Prayer.
  • Consider posting a video or a guide for first time visitors to watch / read on the Church website prior to their visit. This is an example.
  • Be aware that the Orthodox Church is quite a different worship experience. Most Americans have never seen people kissing icons, lighting candles, or the use of incense in worship.  We have been deemed somewhat “weird” at first.  While we are liturgically different from all other faiths, we offer the love of Christ in a very real sense.
  • Evangelical Protestants are attracted to Orthodoxy for a more spiritual worship experience and/or our set pattern of worship experience from the time of Christ and His Apostles, but most will have little understanding at first.
  • Many Orthodox Churches have dropped the use of thee’s and thou’s in worship. They have recognized that Elizabethan English is not our modern language. If you are using archaic language forms, consider updating them.

Religious Facts

The religious situation in America has changed much over the past decades. These facts will help you better understand the backgrounds of guests in your parish.

  • 80% of churches in America have 100 or fewer people.
  • According to a 2007 Gallup Poll, fewer people believe in God than at any time in the last 10 years (86% down from 92%)
  • On the other hand, more believe in the devil than before (70% up from 56%).
  • A Pew Study on religions in America in 2014 found those who call themselves Christian (ages 18 & older) dropped by 8% from 78.4% to 70.6%. The fastest growing population segment is the “none’s” those who do not identify with any church or religion. “None’s” rose from 16% to 22.8%!
  • Nearly ½ of all Orthodox Christians drop out once they become adults. The Greek Archdiocese has lost 38% of its membership since 2014! (250,000 families to 159,000)
  • 98% of all churches have plateaued or are in decline. However, St. Luke is going against this trend since we are growing year to year about 5%.

Focus On Hospitality

 Hospitality to strangers is translated from the Greek word philosxenias. It is derived from philos (love of friend or family) and xenos (stranger).

Our Bible has many quotes on being hospitable.  Did you know the monks in the desert rated hospitality as the most important Christian behavior even over prayer!

Here is what the Bible says about hospitality:

  • Hebrews 13:2 “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”
  • Romans 12:13 “Share with God’s people in need, practice hospitality.”
  • 1 Peter 4:9 “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

Special Notes for Fellowship (Coffee) Hour

It is important in the Fellowship Hour that some of the regular members of the congregation say “hello.”

Try to inform parishioners that the proper standard line is:

“Hi, I am Mary; I don’t think I have met you, yet.” 

Always avoid asking, “Is this your first time here?” and for sure never ask, “Are you Greek?” (Or any other ethnicity).

Here is a way of briefly answering a newcomer should a question arise right away about church history or just Orthodoxy.

The standard is “We are the Ancient Church of Christ, His Apostles and the Martyrs.” Orthodox means “right belief and worship”.

Another option, “Welcome, I am Mary. Can I help you? Oh, you ask, what’s the best way to describe Orthodox Christianity?   Well, since Jesus our Savior is our example, did you know that He never used the term Christian?

Alternative answers to “What is the Orthodox Church?”

“I am a follower of Jesus.” or “We are followers of Jesus”

After all, didn’t Jesus chose His disciples by just saying, “Follow Me”?

In all cases please keep your responses as short as possible.  

In very rare cases non-Christians or the non-churched or atheists may ask:

“How can I follow Jesus?  What is attractive about Jesus? Why should I dedicate my life to following him?”

If you respond, make sure you present Jesus as the Messiah who has come into the world to save all mankind from its sins……….    

Share the Faith is a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity. Active since 2014, Share the Faith is under the direction of Fr. Evangelos Pepps of the OCA Diocese of the Midwest. Share the Faith has been endorsed by multiple Orthodox bishops to pursue its mission of support for needy priests and their families.