[Janel Kess, Host Team Pastor, NewLife Community, Owatonna, MN]
Janel, first let me congratulate you for not resting on the old “I’m not great at remembering names” excuse. You actually may not be, but you refuse to stay there. Your guests will appreciate that. As Dale Carnegie said, “a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” All of your personal tricks that you mentioned are some of my favorites. Here are a few more:
Develop a plan to capture names. Whether you utilize an info card at your first time guest tent, in your service, wherever…get names. Don’t fall for the logic that “people want to remain anonymous.” While that may be 100% true for some people, we need to provide easy on-ramps for whenever guests are ready to be known.
Handle the names as much as possible. Back in the early days of my role, I was the Connections Pastor, the Connections Admin, the Connections Data Keeper, and the Connections Bottle Washer. That meant that I read names, entered names, and followed up on names a lot. That repetition cemented peoples’ names in my head. Often I knew the entire family’s names (and the street they lived on) even before I met them. To this day I can still pretty much nail the names of the first 2,000 people in our church. I attribute most of that to the fact I was my own admin.
Find out how to get photos. We take pictures at many of our Starting Point events. We don’t use those for anything other than pastors putting names and faces together. It’s a tricky business – you have to explain exactly why you’re doing it – and you certainly don’t want to make that ask on a guest’s first visit. But flash cards of people in your church are an express lane to name recognition.
Give yourself an out. Often when I meet someone for the first time, I will make a production of repeating their name for effect, even to the point of “Okay, let me try this one more time. It’s Jeremy and Alisha, correct?” And then I give myself an out: “Hey, the chances are really good that I’m going to totally blank when I see you again next weekend, and maybe the six weekends after that. Do you mind just helping me out if I have that blank stare?” Most of the time, guests appreciate, understand, and will acclimate to that.
‘Fess up when you forget. I think there’s a window of opportunity where we can just admit we’re clueless. That might not work with the guy you’ve been in small group with for the last year, but it’s certainly understandable within a guest’s first month at your church. Don’t rely on “Hey, Brother” from now until Jesus comes back. Just confess you forgot, get the right name, and move on.
Consider name tags. The easiest solution is to outfit your entire church with name tags. You can print your own on my favorite badge printer, or you can just provide peel-and-stick labels every week. If everyone is wearing a name tag, it doesn’t feel nearly as awkward. (Do not use this option if you’re just singling out guests.)
What are your best tips for remembering names? Comment below.
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