Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Church Name Tags

I wouldn't usually consider church name tags to be a blog-worthy subject but as I was thinking the other day about our church's plan to create name tags for all our members I decided that there's actually something interesting about it. it got me thinking about what my generation looks for in church and in relationships.

So far I think I'm the only person on our church council that has any real problem with the idea of making name tags. This is surprising to me because it sounds like such a bad idea. But as I was thinking about it the other day I realized that it's possible that none of my problems with name tags would even make sense to our older members which comprise the vast majority of our membership. Our generations simply interpret things differently.

The older generations don't have a problem with wearing a name tag at church, in fact they'd probably appreciate people being able to call them by name without knowing them at all. And that is precisely what my generation wouldn't appreciate. Of all the things people go to church for, the most vitally important thing to my generation is authenticity. We're tired of the stale taste of dishonesty and the masks people so often wear when they go to church (masks of all-togetherness, happiness, and religiosity). We're hungry for authentic community where people are honest about their faith and honest in their relationships. The very idea of people wearing name tags at church would at very least send up red flags for folks like me. We might ask, "if people really care about each other here, why do they need to fake like they know each other? If they knew each other, why would they need name tags? Why don't they just be honest and do the work of asking for each other's names?" People like me would find name tags to be fake at best and intrusive at worst--I don't want you to know my name unless you're interested in getting to know me, I want authenticity, so please ask for my name.

My generation is hungry for a church that is real, where we can all come as we are without faking anything. We really are hungry for relationships that go beyond the shaking of hands and reading of name tags (even if we spoil that with "social networking"). We want church where people don't just know names but actually know us. Slapping a name tag on and reading other's tags just spoils our apetites for any further intimacy and for the work which must must be put into authentic relationships.

9 comments:

The Thief said...

My issue isn't with name tags in particular, it's with pre-printed name tags that scream "I'm one of the in-crowd, and you're not"

WES ELLIS said...

Thief,
That's a whole other aspect of this that bothers me. So true!

SarahJoy said...

I disagree. I have begun going to an Episcopal church in my town, and on my first day I realized everyone wore name tags. Everyone was also really nice, and by that I don't mean the fake nice that people in some churches HAVE to be as "greeters" or whatever, but they were genuinely nice. Some people said hi, some people put their hand on my shoulder, some people talked to me. In fact, a few days after church I saw a man who had put his hand on my shoulder at church and he recognized me, told me to call him Jim, and talked to me for a long time. Now I'm not saying that because they had name tags they were nice and really genuine, in fact, I don't think their kindness had anything to do with name tags. I think they were just kind. Maybe the problem with superficial relationships is superficial people, not name tags. And seriously, how often does one person walk up to another person she knows and need to read her name tag? They're really just helpful for new people, or for people who don't attend that often. As far as the pre-printed ones go, I definitely appreciated them at church when I needed to ask someone a question and a man in the back was wearing a pre-printed name tag (as opposed to people in front of me), signifying to me that he would be one to ask.

Now, I've been to conferences and such were we all wore name tags, and while I thought it was stupid (like at my grandma's big church) because no one really seemed to care. So I guess, just to reiterate myself, it's the context in which the name tags are worn that matters, not the name tags themselves. :)

WES ELLIS said...

Sarah,
I'll go with that, I guess...
I still just don't think I'd feel welcomed at a church where everyone had a name tag on. Of course I'd get past it if the community was authentic (or maybe even if it wasn't) but it would send up red flags.

Michael said...

Thank you for sharing this. I was beginning to think I was the only one that felt this way.

In my mind, church is supposed to be a very personal spiritual experience; it's not supposed to be like going to a trade show to get networking contacts.

Cliff said...

I'm going to try to talk our church into name tags. It would make it so much easier and a less embarrassing way to learn someone's name rather than to ask it over and over again.
But we would need someone to come and judge us as to whether we were 'real' or not.
To avoid someone simply because you know you were introduced to them once but now can't remember their name seems to me to be quite a waste. All for fear that I'm being judged by someone as to my 'authenticity' all because of a bad memory.
I'm trying to avoid judging others because I know that's something I eventually won't need to be good at.

Anonymous said...

OK, so in doing some online research on the use of name tags I ran across this very disturbing "article." Realizing that it was written in 2009, I found myself wondering (and hoping) that Wes has gotten past his own insecurities of being "authentic" in a church setting, especially since he wants to be a pastor (if he isn't one by now). I didn't count the number of times some form of "authentic" was used, but if I'm not mistaken, each time was in a disparaging and negative fashion. It's not advisable to generalize an issue like name tags into something that divides generations, as you suggested, saying older folks would be all for it but young people (your age and younger??) would not. As a youth pastor you should be embracing opportunities to blend generations, and if you find wearing a name tag to be a hinderance in getting to know others in your congregation (afterall it is for most people a first step in learing more about them), then I wonder what impression you're passing along to your youth group about reaching out to others. Very disturbing indeed, especially considering your position in the church.

Anonymous said...

I came from a large southern church where we all wore name tags, or were asked to. It was a help - everyone's name was staring me in the face all the time and I'd been the newbie not too long before. In my mind name tags had nothing to do with authenticity, just perhaps a different way of doing things.
Then a move up north to a large church, more new faces and a massive growth spurt where everyone struggled to remember names. How many times do you ask the same person their name? I suggested "Names and Faces" Sundays and now we ask people to wear name tags 3 times a year, 4 Sundays in a row. (It takes that long to remember names!!) It's been a good thing - halfway meeting point and positive results. If you don't want to wear one, don't. But - let's get over the attitude and do whatever we can to unite people in Christian community. The first hurdle for the not so bold is: What's your name?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting perspective. I'm of the older generation and I would've thought you younger folks would have no problem with name tags. You tweet and post every aspect of your life on Facebook and I would have thought wearing a name tag, so folks know who you are, would be part of that I-want-everyone-to-know-all-about-me generation.

But the real reason for naming tags is not because we want to be "phony nice" but so we can honestly get to know each other. It's hard to remember everyone's name and wearing a name tag helps us learn names and avoid that embarrassing "I've met you but can't remember who you are."