There is a man at my church whose name I do not know. I consider him a friend. It’s a pretty awkward situation all around.
I met him pretty much the first week we attended. He was sitting in the pew nearest us and he immediately introduced himself in the brief 2-minute fellowship scramble after worship, the first of roughly 2,567 other people to say hello. I appreciate this friendliness in our church, and wouldn’t want to change it. But the jumble of names and faces meant that I completely forgot his name. When we went to ask him again after the service, he was engaged in conversation with a family and we didn’t interrupt.
Next Sunday, he wasn’t there. Sunday after that, he was there but we weren’t there because of vacation. And for roughly three months we kept seeing him at church, but the vagaries of seating meant that we all waved a frantic hello at each other over other people’s heads and couldn’t actually, you know, speak.
The next time he sat next to us again he greeted us with such warm familiarity and jovial good humor that it felt awkward to ask his name…and so we didn’t. In fairness, it has occurred to me that he might not know ours, either. And wouldn’t that be awkward.
Brothers, sisters, friends all, we have a name problem in church.
Congregations are growing bigger by the day. Everybody’s switching pews hither and yon. There are two different morning services at most local churches I know. Introductions are made during the cramped “fellowship period” in the service, where greetings exchanged are often so brief that they go unremembered or are lost in the greater tide of noise that occurs.
And what about quiet people whose names you can’t hear when they first introduce themselves? Do you really want to keep shouting at them “What was that, again?” as they slowly turn red and try to repeat their name at a better volume? Do you want to gawk in bewilderment at people with difficult-to-pronounce first and last names as they try, phonetically, to sound it out for you? Do you want to make ESL speakers uncomfortable as they attempt to understand your accent, and you attempt to understand theirs? What about misunderstandings and mispronunciations?
Church directories used to go a long way in solving this problem, with pictures, names, and addresses of members, but they’re fading out of use for a variety of reasons. Many directories are electronic now, but with a lot less identifying information (necessary, in our hack-heavy age). And even useful directories can’t always guarantee all the relevant info of all the people and visitors who might just so happen to be in your congregation on a particular morning.
So: name tags.
I don’t mean every Sunday, if that’s weird. Do it one Sunday a month. Do it one Sunday every couple months. Just try it sometime. This isn’t a new or novel idea (though I thought it was, when it first hit me): a quick Google search shows that a lot of churches do this for precisely the reasons I’ve outlined above.
The cost? A bunch of sharpies and a big ol’ roll of nametags, and the brief but fleeting sensation of being in a corporate event. The benefits? Well, it would be a boon to those of who don’t remember the name of That One Guy. It would help newbies feel more comfortable. It helps us remember who’s who in churches where everybody is always changing seats. It’s a conversation starter (“I didn’t know you were a Rachael with a ‘e’!”) It creates a sense of familiarity among the congregation. And it removes one of those awkward yet pervasive “barriers to entry” that can cause some people to stumble right when they come in the church door.
Name tag Sunday: consider the possibilities. It might make things a lot friendlier, and a lot less awkward, for all of us.