What’s in a name?

Archie Poulos

Knowing someone’s name is very important in relationships. We have all experienced forgetting a name we should recall, and the dampening effect that has on a relationship. To withhold your name from another is a clear statement of distance. Knowing another’s name draws you closer in relationships, and not knowing it reinforces the gulf between people.

Names in church

So what do we do about knowing names at church? Those who attend weekly often need their memories jogged to recall names. Relationships are easier to start when you can read a name on a nametag. The problem is intensified for the newcomer. They know very few names – perhaps just the name of the person who brought them and if they had the courage to come alone, then they know no one. They walk in, and everyone else seems to know each other’s names, which makes the whole experience very difficult.

Options

What options do we have to help our church relationships through better knowing names?

Some churches deliberately do nothing. They do not provide nametags as this makes congregation members lazy in getting to know others.

Other churches print semi permanent or permanent nametags for regular attenders. The problem with this, of course, is that it reinforces the insider-outsider distinction – “I am not really a part of this gathering as I don’t have a name tag.”

Some churches now have the practice of printing out the name of every member on a sticky label, which they are given at the door. Since everyone entering receives a name tag, guests are usually willing to have a name tag written for them too. There are three advantages to this system. The first is that knowing a name makes conversation easier. The second is that at the end of church it is easy to see who was absent and so a caring phone call during the week by a friend to see if everything is OK is a great ministry to exercise. Thirdly, seasoned church members can quickly identify who is new and so don’t need to ask the embarrassing question “are you new here?” and can quickly care for them.

But this method still has a problem. The hand written nametag still screams out ‘outsider’. So, now that we have the technology, why not get smarter? Why not print put the names of regular church attenders so they can peel their name off the sheet and stick it on their chest. Then have an ipad or similar device that a well trained welcomer uses to enter the name of the guest and any other information they may care to give. (Of course the welcome must explain this well). A printer then produces a typed name for the newcomer. This method says that the congregation cares for its guests.

It’s important

The experience and value a person receives from gathering with God’s people is often enhanced or diminished by what happens in the first minute of arrival. We all need to keep thinking about how to help people, and especially at this time. 

Feature photo: evelyngiggles

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