How to Be Fully Present With Your Guests

Here are six practical ways you can make sure you’re fully present to your guests.

Excerpted from
The Come Back Effect
By Jason Young and Jonathan Malm

When you are not fully present with the guest, you’re saying to them:

• “You are not important.”
• “You are more of a task to be handled than a person to care about.”
• “You will receive more robotic responses from me than personal ones.”

Inversely, when you are fully present with the guest in these four fields, they hear:

• “I recognize you. You are not invisible to me. I intentionally choose not to look past you, but to care enough to look ‘in’ you. I acknowledge that you might not want to be seen. However, I will be intuitive enough to sense and respond.” Not everyone wants to be treated the same. And being fully present allows you to realize the individuality of a guest and respond in a way that’s meaningful to them—whether with a handshake or a nod and a smile.

• “I am listening to you. I am choosing to actively listen, which means I restate what you are saying to ensure I listened correctly and so you will know you were heard and I ‘got’ you.” Hearing someone is not the same as listening to someone. When you listen, you listen to more than words—you listen to their feelings, their body language, and what they are not saying. This allows you to hear the questions they are really asking and respond in a way that’s meaningful and appropriate.

• “I want to validate you. I will normalize the way you are feeling. What you are feeling is common. I don’t want you to feel alone in this.” Being a guest in a church for the first time is a scary thing. You know the pastor won’t be sacrificing chickens, but the guest isn’t quite sure. When you acknowledge the fear and anxiety your guest may be experiencing, you allow them to relax a little. You acknowledge what they’re feeling and assure them that your church is a safe and comfortable place. (Business owners, it’s not just churches that are scary for first-timers. Going to any physical location for the first time can be scary.)

• “I appreciate you. I realize you are placing trust in our church. You trust us to take care of your children or to invest in your life with our music, words, and care. I don’t take this responsibility lightly.”

• “I am giving you my undivided attention. My posture is toward you. I am looking at you. I am not preoccupied with anything pertaining to me. Distractions lose. You win. You are my priority.”

Put your cell phone away. Delay your chat with your usual social group. And focus 100 percent on the guest. After all, the way you feel about a guest coming in will be directly reflected in how they feel about you when they leave.

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We’ve talked about the importance of being fully present. But what does that actually look like? What are some practical ways you can be fully present or ways you can train your volunteers to do this?

1. Watch your body language.

Do a quick full-body scan as you begin your conversation with a guest. How is my head positioned? Am I making eye contact? Am I smiling?

Then work your way down. Are my arms folded or open? Do I have my hands in my pockets? Am I gesturing appropriately? Down to your feet. Are my feet angled toward the guest? Am I standing too close? Too far away?

Once you’ve performed the body scan, focus all your attention back on the guest.

2. Intermittently repeat back what you are hearing them say.

Repeating back what you hear your guest saying might feel silly. But it does two things: First, it helps you verify that you’re hearing a guest’s concerns and questions accurately. Sometimes what we hear isn’t actually what’s being said. Second, it assures your guests that you are listening to them. Guests want to be heard and understood. Repetition might look like this: “So I hear you saying you need a seat on an aisle. Would one toward the front work or do you need one in the back?”

3. Be emotionally intelligent.

Emotional intelligence is about understanding and managing yourself and your relationship with guests. That includes matching your words and actions to each setting. What are your tendencies? How do you manage them? Do you recognize the tone of individuals so you know how to best respond? Is the church a casual environment or a formal environment? Is your posture appropriate for such an environment? What are the guests like who we are serving? Are your actions appropriate for making these types of guests feel welcomed?

How’s the pace of the setting? Are people quickly entering and wanting to get to their seats or are they slowly moving toward their seats? Do they want quick conversations or longer conversations?

4. Understand your role in the big picture.

When you encounter a guest, it’s important to realize that they don’t know your role. They have no idea that your responsibilities might include opening the front door and handing them a bulletin.

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They don’t realize that you’re a “lobby greeter.” They simply see you welcoming them. They simply experience your guidance as you help them find the children’s environment or the worship center. Your role feels monotonous and automatic.

But imagine if you weren’t there to perform that task. The guest would feel lost and would be left to find everything on their own. They might wander around for a few minutes trying to find the restrooms, then the children’s rooms, and ultimately arrive late to the service. Your role in the big picture is more important than it seems. A guest has no idea what you do, but when they see what you’ve done it’s important.

5. Personalize the experience.

Pay attention to the guest. Quite simply, that means involving the person, responding to them, and empathizing with what they’re feeling—what’s important to them. This is about personalizing the experience.

Don’t treat every guest the same way. Look for ways you can personalize the welcome to the guest. Take cues from their children or spouse, the clothes they’re wearing, or the way they walk. Each person walking through your church door is an individual with unique values, dreams, and goals in life. Look for their individuality and customize the guest experience for them.

6. Accomplish your tasks early.

You shouldn’t have to be working when a guest arrives. If you’re sorting through the bulletins as a guest arrives with a question, you won’t be able to be fully present for them. When you’re unhurried, you can more easily be undistracted for the guest. You can focus all of your attention—spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional—on the guest.

Imagine your ministry being the one place where a guest feels truly heard. The one place in their life that feels unhurried and peaceful. We have the opportunity to offer empathy and comfort in a world filled with chaos. When we do what we do best, then God does what he can do best. Something amazing happens when we’re fully present for our guests.

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Excerpted from The Come Back Effect by Jason Young and Jonathan Malm. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2018. Used by permission.