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September 3, 2009

Responding to Drop-In Visitors


Most church office staff interact with a large number of drop-in visitors. These are often congregational members who come to the church for a specific reason, but then end up in the church office. These conversations can be helpful in building relationships, but sometimes they can prevent the staff from getting work done. This case study examines that concern. Read the following case study and respond in the "comments" section on this blog.

Stacy is working on a mailing for the Sunday School staff. During the last 35 minutes, at least 3 congregational members have dropped in the office, and one elderly member of the congregation phoned. In each case, the members chatted for a few minutes about this and that, nothing really important. The elderly person calls on a regular basis, and just likes to visit.

Stacy wants to be sensitive to congregational members, but is unsure how to minimize visits when she has other work that needs to be done. What would you suggest?


kindly let each indivdual know that I'm working on a project and have a time line to get it complete it--then express that I would love to have a conversation with them--"maybe we can have lunch or coffee sometimes"

I have discovered that there is no way to handle this. Each person that comes into your office is different, and this has to be treated differently. I've tried the approach to kindly ask to have a chat another time, only to be told by my boss (the priest) that I was unwelcoming to the person. Other times, when someone comes in, and start talking, only to be here 30 minutes later, I am afraid to tell them to leave because I will get reprimanded later. There is no compromise. Sadly, that leaves me to work after hours, and on the weekends to catch up with the pastoral duites I have during business hours.

Wow, Carolyn, I'm sorry. It doesn't sound like you have a very understanding (or wise) boss or pastor (priest). I find that ridiculous that he/she would even insinuate that you are unwelcoming just because you want to "own" your time and manage it properly! Certainly, at the very least, that person(s) could use some training or guidance in the management and leadership fields!

I have always had understanding pastors as far as office and time management, but this issue is a big one for church office professionals. I constantly get pulled away from my duties as office manager, even though relationships are being built while I converse with individuals.

There is a balance somewhere......

I try to manage work tasks so that there is a mindless chore -- envelopes to stuff, papers to collate, labels to put on envelopes, etc. -- near my desk. For example, if a mailing has to go out by Friday, I will prepare the elements early in the week. If someone stops in to chat, s/he often will offer to help while we talk or at least not object to my taking care of that task while having a conversation. Or I can prop the phone receiver on my shoulder and work while chatting.

It's tough. I usually am very welcoming but am also very business-like as opposed to laid-back-chatty-like, which gives most "drop-ins" a silent signal this isn't a good time. I am always attentive to them and most of our congregation knows that I am busy or if we're working on a mailing that's going out, that I can't spend oodles of time with them. With mailings etc., I have volunteers that help so if I need to be with a visitor I can be. On the phone, if someone gets chatty I just prop it on my shoulder and work whilst chatting. But it's a fine line and I try to at least show I'm attentive to their needs though busy.

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