Easy Ways to Create Welcoming Environments
Have you ever walked into the room and wondered if anybody cares you are there? Ungreeted, you scan the room for someone you know, but your scans are only met with the quizzical scowls of the “presumed” regular attenders. This split-second interaction lets you know that you were seen and you realize that you can’t leave now. You are surrounded by people, you feel alone, you feel like an interruption. Let’s change this. I believe that one of the most overlooked elements in a youth group gathering or in a network is creating welcoming environments.
Here are a few ideas to help create momentum for any gathering. Be proactive; don’t assume the people coming to your meeting are outgoing and ready to connect. Help them settle in by creating welcoming spaces.
Play some tunes
Have you ever noticed that music is playing EVERYWHERE? Coffee shops, grocery stores, even outdoor shopping spaces are strategically immersed with music. Don’t allow your gathering to be awkwardly quiet as people arrive.
PRO-TIP: Invest in a good bluetooth speaker so that you can bring the party ANYWHERE!
If your group does not meet regularly, or if you are anticipating new people will be infiltrating the “established” group, YOU NEED NAME TAGS! Kill the clique. Don’t overthink this; the name tags can be simple stickers with sharpies. Name tags will give a conversation point to those who are lacking simple conversation skills. Plus, they make introductions easier.
Teens and adults connect best if they have simple distractions. Food is one of those simple distractions, it gives people the option of breaking away from conversation. People who engage with a simple distraction can break away at any time, are able to maintain introductions, and will not create an insular community. You want to avoid anything that will create an insular community during the welcoming time.
You may be the coolest person on the planet, but you can only connect with a limited number of people. This is a big need if you are distracted by people who are calling to ask for directions or texting to let you know they are coming. Assign someone to this role.
First-time attendees need to be welcomed quickly. Assume that everyone who is coming feels like an outsider. Train your greeters in the following:
- Say “hello” before attendees slow their momentum into the room. A smile, eye-contact, and a little bit of energy aren’t optional for this key role in your gathering.
- Give your greeter instructions for attendees. “Grab a name-tag, get some food and get to know some of the awesome people here today!” Your greeter doesn’t have to learn people’s stories, they simply have to help people feel connected to the flow of the gathering.
- Train your greeter to introduce newcomers to other attendees.
- Let your greeter know that they are greeters for the ENTIRE gathering. If someone slides into the meeting late, it’s their job to greet the new person.
PRO-TIP: If you have more than five people that attend your gathering, you NEED to recruit a greeter. Smaller groups that don’t assimilate new attendees quickly are more intimidating than large groups. Small groups tend to feel like cliques, while large groups feel like you simply got lost in the shuffle.
DON’T SINGLE OUT THE NEWCOMER
Greet the group like they are all old friends; don’t isolate the new person. The regulars know the other regular attenders, so let your newcomer disclose their story in their own time. You will know that they feel connected when they share their story with others in the group.
Make time for Introductions
Break the large group into smaller groups and allow space for introductions and icebreakers. If your gathering is larger than 10 people, then introductions get too long and boring and it can be difficult to maintain a good pace for the meeting.
For youth group gatherings: You can’t assume that your students know how to make friends. Help your group regularly find fun, mildly challenging ways to say “hello” to people outside of their comfort zone. These can be the all-play kind of icebreakers that are easy for everyone to quickly participate in with minimal risk of failure. BE CAREFUL of icebreakers that are too wild or weird. These can scare newcomers away. You are looking to build community, not make it awkward.
In a networking situation: Consider breaking up into groups of three or four and giving those groups five minutes to share who they are, where they are from, and an icebreaker question. You will need to use a timer for this. Shutting these conversations down may feel like the wrong thing to do, but your goal is to help new people integrate and create energy for the rest of your meeting. It’s an extra win if a connecting conversation continues after your meeting is over!
First impressions mean a lot to new attendees. Helping a person feel less awkward in their first meeting will help your chances that they will become a regular attender.
This article originally appeared here.