January 16, 2008

It's All in a Name

2008 1502 page31 cap want to thank you for being such a positive influence in my life.”
I certainly felt humbled as a young man began a conversation with me with those words. Several years before, I had been a conference youth department director when this 20-year-old was just a kid. He then proceeded to give me a wonderful and yet embarrassing affirmation.
At first I inwardly speculated as to what great thing I had done to deserve this accolade. Could it possibly be that I had held an outstanding Week of Prayer? Or had he been on one of the life-changing mission trips I had organized? Or was it because of a powerful sermon I had delivered?
I assured the young man of the reality that if he had ever seen anything good in me, it was a gift from God. But then I asked him what it was that he remembered about my ministry that had affected him positively. His answer was both humbling and revealing, and the golden image of the importance of my organizational or preaching skills was soon demolished with his reply: “What changed my life? . . . You knew my name,” he said.
2008 1502 page31In a world crammed with informational bombardment, countless programs, and communication overload, some apparently still recognize that it might be “all in a name.” For example, I’ll review a few incidents that happened to me recently:
     •The grocery store cashier returned my debit card to me after I made a purchase and said, “Thank you, Mr. Pifher.”
      The rental car agent opened our conversation with, “Mr. Pifher, let me help you choose your car.”
      My familiar online Web sites now greet me with a “Welcome, Gordon.”
       The other evening a hotel clerk gave me a personalized, handwritten card that read “To Gordon” and included a nice welcome from Murray, the sales manager.
       A church I recently attended provided every guest and church member with a name tag. I was on a first-name basis with everyone immediately. I felt like part of the family. They knew my name.
I’ve been pondering these experiences and have developed a few suggestions on how we as church members can make people feel more welcome and come to know one another better. I have witnessed these practices being carried out in various churches I have visited:
      1. Greeters and elders meet after every Sabbath church service in order to acquaint themselves with each visitor’s    name.
      2. Greeters give name tags to both visitors and members upon their arrival at church.
      3. Include an insert with the bulletins, highlighting a “Member 
of the Week” feature. This would, of course, be printed  with the member’s permission.
      4. Send congratulatory cards to church members celebrating birthdays or anniversaries.
      5. Send personal notes or leave phone messages to provide encouragement or to let others know you care about them.
      6. Design a bulletin board on which to pin photos of church members and/or visitors.
      7. Encourage Sabbath school teachers to learn the names of their class members and to make a point of calling them by name.
But most important, let’s not forget that God knows each of our names. We’re given that assurance in John 10:3, which reads: “He calls his own sheep by name.”
The apostle John also gives us good counsel in 3 John 14: “I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. . . . Greet the friends there by name.”
Small things can make a big difference in whether people feel valued or even welcomed in a church. And this is true for members as well as visitors. Taking the time to learn and remember a person’s name may be more important than you think. It might be just what is needed to encourage someone to be at church the next week.
Sometimes, perhaps, it really is—all in a name.
Gordon E. Pifher is president of the British Columbia Conference.