It is the most important, practical ministry tool that anyone can develop. And, I mean anyone. It’s a tool I’ve used for years and very often have been asked, “How do you do that?”
Not many of us will sing like Travis Cottrell, write songs like Chris Tomlin, or arrange like Cliff Duren. But, all of us can do this.
We can call people by name.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking – I’m awful with names. I wish I were better at it. Well, you can be. Here’s how –
- Make learning people’s names a priority. When I made this a goal, I quickly realized how often I had not actually learned someone’s name while I was meeting the person. It didn’t matter to me, so I really didn’t try to learn it. But now, I zoom in to a laser focus on names when I meet people.
- Make a habit of using people’s names in conversation. Years ago when I first decided I was going to be better at this, I decided I would put people’s names into conversation intentionally. Thanks, Dave, for calling – You did a great job on the solo, Susan – Hey Steve, can you give me more piano in the monitor? And, the more often I used someone’s name, the more likely I would remember it in the future.
- Don’t be afraid to mess up. I have found people to be very forgiving when I guess wrong, especially someone that I really shouldn’t know their name to begin with. They almost always appreciate the attempt and will correct, sometimes even in a humorous way. And, best of all, I have discovered that when I mess up a name and they correct me, I usually never forget it again.
- Cheat. If someone is approaching me and the name doesn’t arrive in my brain, I’ll whisper to someone nearby, “What’s his name?” Or, before I join a meeting or gathering, I’ll spend a little time anticipating who will be there and rehearse the names in my mind ahead of time so when I see them, I’m ready to go. If I meet someone I think I’ve met before but can’t recall the name, I’ll say something like, “I know we’ve met, but I just can’t remember your name right now – who are you?” Again, people are very happy to give you a pass on those kinds of honest admissions. And, on the rare occasion it turns out to be someone I should have known easily, I’ll make a big joke about it and press in for a conversation that more than covers my failure to remember the name.
- Pray and ask God for help. I believe God often rewards this effort by helping me do this. Whenever I go somewhere where I know there will be a group of people I have known that would be blessed if I remembered names, I’ll pray, “Lord – help me today with names. Give them to me so I can be an encouragement today.” I can tell you for sure God has answered that prayer for me on numerous occasions.
A True Example
Once, I was beginning a ministry at a church with an outstanding tradition in high school choir. I knew that some of the students were nervous about a new leader because of their love for the previous one. At a pool party planned for me to meet the 80+ students, I made a conscious effort to learn each name over the two hours of the party without anyone knowing. When it was time to go, I got everyone’s attention and said, “Before I go, I want to try something.” Then I went around the entire party and called every student by their first name. Now for sure, I had to re-learn many of those names later – but when I called their names, the fear about the transition left every one of those students. It saved me months of time building trust with those kids just by learning their names that day.
For those of you that are saying, “He’s being dramatic – names don’t matter that much,” I want to lovingly say, “You are wrong.” I have seen firsthand the power of remembering names. I say without hesitation, it is the single most important ministry tool I have ever developed in my life. I’m still trying to get better at it.
In Luke 19, we see Jesus use this tool and a tax collector who surely questioned whether or not he would ever be able to meet the Teacher passing through his town ended up hosting Jesus for dinner.
If the tax collector had written a book about that day, he might have titled it; He Had Me at “Zacchaeus.” Jesus started that eternal conversation by calling the stranger by name.
Try it and see for yourself. I dare you.
Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book. In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family. Mike can be found on Twitter @MikeHarlandLW and on facebook.com/Mike.Harland.37.