(This is nugget # 3 that I shared in a talk I gave – 7 Things I have learned at 20 years at Grace Family Church)
“Behind every number, there is a name. Behind every name there is a story. And every story is important to God.” Perry Noble
This nugget goes way back to the first few weeks of me being at GFC. Craig calls me in his office one day and says, “Chris, you need to change your face on Sunday morning. You are going too fast through the crowds, with an intense face – people think you are angry.” I said, “I am just trying to get things done.” He said, “They will be. Slow down. People are more important.” This was one of the biggest lessons I have learned at GFC. In fact, our “slug line” on our logo was, “you matter to God.” Even when we removed it from the logo, it was never removed from the heartbeat of our pastor and his wife, Debbie.
When the church was very young, Debbie taught me the importance of learning people’s names. Debbie would actually have a little black book where she would write down a person’s name that she met at church. I caught onto the principle by watching her. We both began to work hard to learn all the names of the people who called GFC their home church. It was easy at first – there wasn’t too many of us. Eventually, we both had to give up because the number of people were overwhelming.
People want to be recognized and they want to be heard.
I did a lot of work in Children’s ministry. It was amazing to me how a child will “light up” when you call them by name. Actually, all people react when you know their name. Our names are important. It gives a basic sense of value when you know my name. My mom proves this to me every time I visit my parents in Tennessee. While there, I will meet their friends and associates when they do their daily errands. Whether it is the first time I have met them or a reintroduction, I am always (I mean always) called “Christian” by my parents or the person I am meeting. That is my given name and my parents refer to me as such. It is the only name they have used in describing me so it would be the only way for their friends to identify me.
Another phenomenon happened with my name in the last ten years. It changed. I have been always known as Pastor Chris. With my family growing in their roles at the church, my name has changed to “Kristin’s husband” or “__________’s Dad.” And I love it. I love that they are making an impact with their lives in the church and the community. After most services at GFC, I will stand with Casey to greet people as they leave. He gets a lot more “traffic” than I do and I think its funny when someone leans over after talking to him and asks, “And you are Casey’s dad?” I smile…on the inside and out. It is the best compliment to me when Kristin or one of my kids hits a home run and they want to associate me with them.
Every name has a story.
I love hearing people’s stories. (With one catch). I am good for about one minute. In getting to know someone, I will usually ask one of these two questions: “Tell me thirty seconds of your life?” or “Tell me something about yourself that would surprise me?” People give you the most amazing responses. Some jump in and others look at you like you are an alien from outer space. Here is the kicker – they always answer. If they are hesitant, I will say that I will go first and I tell them about me. Or, I will surprise them by telling them that I was in the circus while in college and did a wedding on Spanish MTV two years ago. (both true) That will break the ice and they will share their story. Don’t miss this…people want to share their story. It reaffirms that there is value in them. And there truly is. Even the most inward people want you to know they are important because of something they think or they accomplished. It is our job to draw out those stories. If you do this, you will find it reaffirms them but enriches your life as well. Those stories are what feeds that relationship.
I close with this…you go into ministry because you feel a calling to help people find and grow in their relationships with God. Knowing people’s names and stories are key components of building the bridge to meeting people where they are at. And, to help them take the step to where they want to go.