We’ve covered the first three questions of seeker-oriented outreach:
Now, let’s take a look at the fourth question:
4) How can we make sure that the first visit helps seekers decide to come back?
Of course, we can’t really make sure that the first visit helps seekers decide to come back. We all know that ultimately, the decision to come back to another Quaker meeting is down to what Spirit does with someone during their first Quaker meeting. If it’s not the right spiritual home for someone, they probably won’t come back, at least not more than a few times. And we wouldn’t want them to.
But it is possible for us, as Quakers, to get in the way of someone coming back. There are ways in which we can be stumbling blocks, and there are ways in which we can greet seekers and offer the warmth and support they need to be able to come back—if it’s right for them.
I’d like to mention four specific ways in which we can offer this warmth and support.
Friends personally welcome visitors of all ages, warmly but not overwhelmingly. It’s a tricky balance. Some new visitors are extremely outgoing and would hope for lots of people to come up, check in, say hello, and offer welcome. Others are shy or uncertain and prefer to be greeted but then essentially left alone. What’s the “right” way to go about this?
One way is to choose greeters who are good at reading signals. Some of us are simply more gifted than others at reading body language and making people feel comfortable. If your meeting is small, this might be a function for the whole meeting, but you probably know which Friends are especially good at it—can you name those Friends and encourage them to continue doing the work, even informally?
It’s also important to have someone who’s comfortable greeting young people. Children should have their own greeting, and if the child is quite young, it’s helpful to bend down to be at eye level. Might it even be possible to ask a child or teen who is particularly good at befriending people to take responsibility for greeting and welcoming visiting children or teens?
The building contains dedicated (separate) spaces for children and for teens, and all ages mix in social times and worship times. There are a few meetings that meet in rental spaces where this is impossible, but most meetings can at least swing a couple of small dedicated spaces. Ideally, you need a space for children preschool age and younger, a space for elementary-age kids, and a space for teens, even if you don’t have any regularly attending Friends in these age ranges. There’s a real difference between “we don’t have any place for you, but we’re willing to make one” and “we have a place already prepared specifically for you.”
It’s important to visiting families, though, that the age spaces are flexible and that all age groups mix. Parents must be welcome in childcare areas, especially when young ones are first visiting, and it’s important that children are equally welcome in the worship space. (This welcome can be clearly indicated with signs—CHILDREN ARE WELCOME IN WORSHIP—and with physical resources to make worship easier for young ones, such as small chairs, soft toys, and mats to sit on the floor.) Finally, social hour should be organized so that the age groups mix easily, with play areas visible to parents and a space where teens can flow easily between the general gathering area and a place of their own.
Simple information about Quakerism is easy for visitors to find and take home. Almost all meetings have some version of take-home information, but somebody has to maintain this, even if the work of doing so isn’t glamorous. Are the stacks tidy? Do the handouts have a modern design, and does someone replenish the photocopies regularly? Are there coloring pages for children along with the materials for adults? Is it obvious which resources should remain at the meetinghouse and which can be taken home for free?
Friends follow up with visitors by phone or email within a few days of the first visit. Some visitors—especially shy ones—might find this kind of foll0w-up intimidating, but they tend to self-select. If visitors are invited and encouraged to write their contact information in a book, they will decide for themselves whether to offer an email address, a phone number, a mailing address, or none of the above. Within days, they should receive a friendly follow-up—“I’m so glad you came. Here are a couple of upcoming events you might want to know about . . . can I answer any questions for you?” This kind of contact makes a visitor feel seen.
Is your meeting doing these four things to help visitors decide to come back after a first visit? If not, might you personally feel called to step up in any of these ways?
And again for the gratitude challenge—I talked in the first blog of this series about the ways in which outreach has many parts and how each of us has gifts and callings to participate somewhere in the broader definition of outreach. Are there people in your meeting who make it a point to welcome visitors of all ages, who maintain dedicated spaces for young people, who make photocopies or straighten the piles for take-home information, or who follow up with visitors by phone or email? If so, can you set an intention for yourself to notice their work and thank them for their service sometime in the next week?