© 2014 John Casimir O'Keefe

I Just Don’t Understand The Use Of Nametags

I know what you’re thinking, ‘With all the issues facing churches today, who cares about nametags?’ I’ll give you that but let me say that something as simple as a nametag can change the dynamic of the church – and not in a good way. Please allow me to explain.

Not long ago, when I was working on my Doctorate degree, I was required to attend a conference a year. I’m not sure why, but it was required so I did it. One year, I was broke, broker that usual, so I decided to attend a conference close to where I lived just outside Sacramento. The drive was short, and they offered “Student Discounts” – being broke and a student, it was right up my price range.

When I registered online, I know I wasn’t going to be overly excited about the conference, mainly because it was held at one of those big evangelical churches – you know, the ones that look more like a small college campus with bookstore, coffee shop and a working gym, kind of like “The Mall of American” for churches; though, I have been known to pastor some communities that don’t look like churches either. Yet, I’m always uncomfortable with a church that spends more on the building than they do on feeding the hungry.

When I arrived I parked my car and took the 20 minute trip from the parking lot to the “worship center.” When I walked in the door, there was the registration area. When it was my turn, I gave the nice young lady my name. Flipping through a big binder marked “M-Q” boldly on the cover she looked for my registration form. When she found my form she marked me “In Attendance” and handed me a large packet of “stuff.” As she was doing some other stuff, I opened the packed and noticed it was filled with sales material, discounts at the book store if I wanted to buy any of the different speaker’s books, a free cup of coffee (small) at the coffee shop, free “tryout periods” at certain websites, marketing material on all the speakers, and something that I thought was rather funny – a “Do You Know Jesus” pamphlet (something I think all Christian Conferences should have in their material). One thing that caught my attention was the little flyer that read, “Keep my conference badge with me at all times because the bookstore and the coffee shop (not the gym) were only open to church members and conference attendees’ – they had Security all over the event, leading people off campus (yea, not very open, or inviting). Not the best place for me to be, but, it did meet my criteria, local, cheap and short.

As I was looking over the material, she handed me a name tag and said, “This is also for you.” I thanked her, but told her I didn’t wear nametags. She looked hurt, more confused I guess. She said, “How will anyone know who you are?” I thought for a moment and said, “Well, if they want to know me all they have to do is come up and talk with me.” She seemed even more confused, “But if you have a nametag they will know your name and they won’t have to talk to you.” I decided that this wasn’t the place to point out bad logic, so I took the nametag and said, “Thank you.” She smiled, and sat down with an expression of relief on her face. She had accomplished her mission, her ministry; she gave me the packet of sales material and my nametag. All was good in her world.

As I left the table, I walked past a garbage can and, not in her line of sight; I drop everything into the garbage.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘There only nametags’ – right? We need nametags so we know who others are, right? Do we? I mean, do we truly need a nametag to get to know another person?

As the conference started, I got to thinking, what is it with nametags and Christian Churches? I mean, as of late, almost every church I visited, or consulted with, used name tags. All I could think of is how uncreative some people can be about meeting new people. As I think back, one thing I noticed was most people never really look at nametags. Several churches I visited handed out little paper nametags to anyone who came in, except members – they had fancy, engraved nametags, with the churches logo and name – some even had “Member” under the person’s name. Nothing like standing out as a visitor when everyone around you is wearing fancy nametags and you have that freaky stick-on white paper (with either a blue or red boarder – or worse, butterflies) nametag and your name written on it with some weird off color Sharpie they got from the children’s ministry room.

If the idea behind giving nametags is to get to know people, in my view, they fail big-time. Most churches I visited that use nametags people still walk past visitors and say nothing – they don’t introduce themselves, they don’t interact with visitors – it’s as if the nametag was not even there, or worse, they can tell people who are not “really in the club” because they don’t have fancy nametags. So, what do we do?

Once, while I was planting a church in Las Vegas, we were growing with new people, people we never meet, and our core group was a bit concerned. One member of the Core Team suggested we move to issuing nametags. I wasn’t a big supporter of the idea, but we talked it out. As we were talking, it hit me – SODA.

Here is how it worked: During one of our services we offered everyone who came in a soda – they could pick between a Coke, 7up, a Grape, or a Dr. Pepper, and if they didn’t want one that was cool too – as people started to gather, finding a place to sit, and when all were settled, I announced that all the people who picked a Coke needed to sit in one area; those who picked a 7up in another; those who chose Grape in another; those who selected a Dr. Peppers in another – and those who did not pick a soda needed to sit in another area. We invited them to spend 20 minutes to get to know each other – One member of the Core Team sat with each group to help the dialog along, but they were told not to control the conversation. The Coke group was huge, the Grape group – not so much. At the end of the 20 minutes we got together as one group and started our service, which included a time where we could share with each other that was shared in the groups (The Core Team Member was not the one who shared) and what did we learn about others. The experience was amazing. Each month, we “changed it up” a bit, but kept the same idea – we used pictures of animals, different color sheets of paper, different sheets of paper with numbers on it. Those who came on a regular basis knew what we were doing, and they got excited about meeting different people. We found that we created a culture where people wanted to meet others, and took the time to truly get to know others; something nametags just can’t do.

I have tried this several times since that day, in small groups and very large groups, and it works great. It doesn’t matter what you use, the idea is to get people in smaller groups with people they did not come in with. No nametag required.

What I have found by using creative ways of getting people to talk helps move us past the nametags and into a culture of wanting to meet new people. For that to take place you need to do a few things. You need to give people something in common to start with – they all like the same kind of soda, so conversation came naturally from that point. You need to not control the conversation, let it be open for the people in the group to move the conversation, even if all they want to talk about is how crazy it is to use soda. Let it fall naturally where it falls. We found that people, who had experienced this in the past, did not tell others what was happening. One family told me that when we would do this, they each would pick a different item so that each person in the family got to be in a different group and meet new people.

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