For the past four years, a small group has met in our home every Tuesday evening from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. for Bible study, prayer, and fellowship. Between fifteen and twenty people come regularly. With the exception of three or four people, the group is always the same. I recently asked them a question: “How many of you know the names of everyone else in the group?” I knew everyone’s name, but—to my surprise—not all of them did! This is true in most of our churches: members come week after week and worship together, but do not know one another’s names.
In my previews article, I wrote about how to help church members get to know one another. In this article, I will show how we can learn and use one another’s names.
THE VALUE OF A NAME
At a recent community fair, I was given the responsibility of hosting the raffles and two giveaways. When I did the first one, a boy came running. I knew his name and addressed him by his name. When I did the second, another boy came running to receive his prize, but I was not able to congratulate him by name. I was embarrassed to find that I knew his face, but not his name.
On Sabbath, the greeters, perhaps the elders, stand at the door and greet people. They pass a bulletin or shake hands and say, “Happy Sabbath” as people walk in. They rarely greet people by name. This is partly because they are not used to greeting people by name, and partly because they simply do not know the names of the majority of the members. While a greeting is good, greeting with a name is great, and I believe it adds value. It is one of the ways to make people feel included and accepted.
During the greeting portion of the church service, the pastor in charge provides an opportunity for the congregation to meet and greet one another. Most people stand up and shake hands with one or two people before returning to their seats. I interviewed a dozen of our members about whether they knew the names of the people they greeted almost on a regular basis (for people usually sit in the same seats every week). Three-fourths of them said they knew them by face, but not by name. They admitted they did not really know the people sitting and worshipping beside them.
Mike Figliuolo points out that people lose their identities when we refer to them by title alone (e.g., sir, boss, etc.); the titles are interchangeable, one-dimensional, and replaceable. People want to be recognized for who they are, not for the roles they fill.1 He suggests that next time you see a waitress, bellman, or anyone else in the service industry who wears a name tag, call that person by name as you speak with him or her. Watch that person’s reaction. The instant you say a person’s name, you have humanized that person. Figliuolo assures us that person will be much more interested in fulfilling your request, simply because you called him or her by name.2
“God knows each individual by name.”3 He called Abraham by his name (Gen 22:1). He called Moses by his name (Exod 3:4). He called Samuel by his name (1 Sam 3:4). Jesus called Ananias by his name (Acts 9:11). Because He valued people by calling them by name, I believe He desires that we address one another by name.
I propose that church leaders be invested in helping their members get to know everyone’s name and address one another by name. One effective method is to supply everyone with a name tag: members, visitors, guests, and even pastors. The argument in favor of such a proposal is simple: how can we not know the name of our own?
The use of name tags can start small—in Sabbath School, choir, and small group ministry. Then when people begin to accept the idea, introduce it to the whole church. Providing name tags is especially helpful to newcomers. Members can address them by name the first day and the newcomer can address others by name and get connected. Knowing everyone’s name by memory is, indeed, great.
In a discussion related to this particular subject, a pastor described to me a recent interaction he had. The pastor had noticed a newcomer in the church. He reached out, greeted her, and asked her name. She offered her name and said she was glad to be at church for the first time. When she came back the next week, the pastor happened to see her and greeted her by name. She was pleasantly surprised and asked how he could remember her name in such a large church after just one meeting. She not only began attending regularly, but also became a strong contributing member of the church.
Now we’re all acquainted. And we know one another’s names, and the importance of using them. But we still do not truly know one another until we share our stories—topic to be covered in the next article of this series.
1 Mike Figliuolo, One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership, 1st ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011), 148.
2 Ibid., 149.
3 Ellen G. White, Ministry of Healing, 229.
Paulasir Abraham, PhD, DMiss, is an associate pastor at the Southern Asia Seventh-day Adventist Church in Silver Spring, MD, USA.