Oftentimes when visiting a “evangelical” or non-denominational Christian congregation I see an information table or booth in the lobby or main entrance of the church. There is usually a designated person at the booth to help answer questions, offer contact information cards, and provide information packets/folders (and sometimes small gifts) to visitors/guests, as well as answer any questions from regular members of the congregation (i.e. “How do I sign up for the women’s retreat next month?”).
While many Catholic parishes have printed information available in brochure stands or fliers, rarely do I see the regular use of an “information booth” and attendant. So, naturally I wonder, should parishes make use of this communication/hospitality strategy?
Reasons to have a manned information booth/table/desk:
- Provides a central location so that average people in the pews, ushers, and greeters can direct visitors/guests to someone who is ready to be friendly, helpful, and provide information (because let’s face it–ushers and greeters are busy with other tasks and can’t carry around information on every aspect of parish life a visitor might be interested in, and many of us in the pews are a little shy or uncertain–a designated location gives us all a way to respond well!)
- Human interaction. It’s becoming less and less common in our society. I can mail packages from the post offices using a machine, check-out my own groceries without talking to a clerk, conduct banking from a mobile device, and swipe a proximity card to enter a fitness center–all without face-to-face contact with a single other human being. While I enjoy many of these conveniences, there’s something about making eye contact, informal chit-chat, and a handshake that gives us an opportunity to connect to others–an information booth creates a place for this, so that if a visitor wants to talk to someone, there is no chance they could wander in and out of Mass, without ever receiving more than a “hello” from others.
- Providing the right guidance and prompting. It’s not uncommon for a parish to have dozens of different fliers, pamphlets, brochures, and posters in a narthex or lobby area. While this might be great for people in the parish, how does a visitor know where to start? Offering a manned information desk creates the place for a little “conversational triage” — for example, finding out if a visitor needs childcare during Mass, if they are specifically looking for a prayer group, etc.
- It can even be useful for active parishioners. Parishes are busy places. It’s not easy to keep track of everything that’s going on–and sometimes people have questions about what’s in the bulletin or an announcement they just heard at the end of Mass. While each of us could always wait and call the rectory/office or send an e-mail, how many questions go unanswered because of this inconvenience and the speed that life races by? An information booth can help everyone in the parish get questions answered right away, and even save trips to the rectory/offices (which are often only open on weekdays).
- Even if a visitor prefers to remain anonymous, the presence of a person specifically prepared and volunteering his or her time to provide hospitality and information says, we care. The visitor sees the witness, and knows that if he or she ever wanted to ask more, there is an informal place to do so that doesn’t involve finding time to make a trip back during the week to visit the rectory/parish office.
Reasons NOT have a manned information booth/table/desk:
- Lack of space in narthex/lobby/gathering area (or presence would impede flow of traffic too much).
- Might make some visitors uncomfortable (as if they are expected to stop or have to pick up information).
- Requires volunteers from parish, proper training for volunteers on being hospitable and offering guidance, and/or involvement from parish staff.
- Any others?
Conclusion: The reasons I could think of to have a booth are much more compelling than my reasons against the technique. What are your thoughts? Are there any key reasons not to try out this practice that I haven’t considered?