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I’m Lousy at Remembering Names

Written By Nathan Miller

I’m lousy at remembering names. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said this since I became a pastor. I’m terrible at it. And listen, this is not a “humble brag.” People regularly tell me I’m good at it, but I always feel compelled to confess. I’ve just got you fooled. I am awful at it!

Have you ever heard somebody’s name, and then before they even finish their sentence, you’ve completely forgotten? Or you call someone by the wrong name…again? Or you avoid someone because you know you should know their name, and you’ve already asked them three times, and it’s easier to just move to another city than admit it?

This is me basically every Sunday. I’m lousy at remembering names!

When I tell someone at church this, they look at me like I’m crazy. But you remembered my name. Ahh…I don’t think we are talking about the same thing. Yes, I remembered your name, but that’s not because it comes even a tiny bit easy for me. No way.

I remembered your name because I want to go to a church where people are known. Where I am known. For only when we are known can we be loved, and only when we are loved, can we truly change and be made whole. Right?

My remembering someone’s name has nothing to with natural skill, but everything to do with the kind of church I want to be a part of. So I remember.

I’m still lousy at it, and some of you are reading this right now thinking, he thinks my name is Bob. He really is the worst. I get it. You’re right. Too many of us are still unknown at church.

But when I talk about this desire to know and be known, this is part of the lifeblood of Christ Community. It’s one of the things our pastors and staff passionately work on and help each other with, and there are many on our team so much better at this than I am.

We’ll never be finished. But we’ll also never stop trying. So what’s our secret? Yeah, you wish. Take this pill, and tomorrow you’ll never forget. Hardly. But let me give you three things I’m confident will help.

See how much it matters

First, you’ve got to see how much it matters–see in their eyes how much it means to them to be remembered. You already know this. You know what it feels like to be remembered. By name.

I feel special when the barista at Starbucks calls me by name. I feel seen. Not anonymously, but as me. Even when I hear my name from a stranger, it feels a bit like love. And I want to be loved.

Seen. Known. Loved. Is there anything else? With a little effort, you can do that for another human. You can give that gift. And you never know what it’s going to do.

For example, me. In 1997, I was a lonely and depressed senior in high school. I’d grown up in church, yet I wasn’t really sure what I thought of Jesus, and I certainly wasn’t taking Him seriously. That fall my family walked into Christ Community for the first time, and I experienced church like I never had before.

On our second week, one of the pastors remembered my name, and it literally changed my life. Sure, this was one thing in a long list of things that changed my life, but it sure felt like a biggie. That November I decided to seriously “try out” Jesus for awhile, and I’ve never looked back.

When you give someone the gift of being seen, known, and loved, you have no idea where that person is at, and you have no idea how God is going to use it.

It’s like a note I got recently. I didn’t know this person at all. I had no idea this person’s story or what they were carrying, till I got this note a few months ago, and probably a couple years after they began attending: Thank you for knowing my name, even after I’d just barely started attending Christ Community. It’s one of the things that helped keep me alive…

Don’t miss that. Something that seems so insignificant, that’s so easy to forget, but can be accomplished with just a tiny bit of work. “…that helped keep me alive…”

You can do that, too, you just have to believe it matters that much, and love people enough to do it. See how much it matters.

Imagine a community

Second, once you realize you can give life with a person’s own name, you have to begin to expand your imagination. It’s great to remember one person…but imagine a community of people where this is the norm.

Speaking of Norm, anyone else humming the theme song from Cheers? Maybe it’s silly, but these words ring so true. Just imagine if, instead of singing about a bar, we sang these words about our church?

Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you’ve got;
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.

(Go ahead. Give it a quick listen and belt it out. But no cat videos. I really want you to finish reading this.)

Why can’t those words be true of Christ Community? Imagine if that’s what our church was known for, no matter what campus, no matter what size. The one place on earth where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.

Would that not be a taste of the Kingdom of God? And how many people would be made whole as a result of something so seemingly small?

I know that sounds far-fetched, yet I’m convinced remembering names is one of our keystone habits. A keystone habit is a habit that leads to a million other good things.

For example, if we remember your name, we’re more likely to pray for you, bring you a meal when you’re sick, or come to your help when your hurting. We’re more likely to want to pull you out of your sin, email you when you’re missing, and continually share with you the beauty of Jesus. Simply because we love you enough to know your name.

And if someone remembers your name, you are more likely to remember the names of the people you meet as well. It’s contagious, isn’t it? It creates a new expectation among all of us, regardless of church size, that this is a place where we love each other enough to remember.

I’ve seen that. We have congregation members who work every bit as hard at this as their pastors. Why? Not because we’ve told them to, but because they’ve seen how much it matters personally (they were remembered) and because they now imagine a community where everyone gets to feel that way. Isn’t that the kind of a church you want to go to? Once that happens, what’s to stop us?

What’s to stop us? Our bad memories, of course! Our default selfishness, crazy busyness, and mild narcissism, of course! You may want to remember. You may even intend to remember. But good grief, am I still forgetful!

This often feels so overwhelming to me. I’ve seen the Olathe Campus grow from a few people to over a thousand. It’s so much harder than it used to be, and I’ve never felt more inadequate in the quest.

But I refuse to give up. Whether it’s that note that continually sits near my desk (see above) or this consuming desire to be part of this kind of church, we will never give up. Which means it’s going to take a ton of hard work.

Work hard

There’s no substitute for it. If you want this for yourself and you want this for your church, you just have to work hard at it! It takes discipline. Love always takes work, doesn’t it?

And while I’ve got nothing new here, let me just share a few of my cheats. Try them out to see what works for you.

  1. Say their name as many times as possible

When I meet someone new, I try to repeat their name as many times as possible. Obviously, I don’t want it to get weird, but I’ll say their name 2-3 times aloud while talking, and another 20 times in my head while listening.

  1. Write it down and study your notes

As soon as they walk away, I IMMEDIATELY write it down in a tiny notebook I carry in my back pocket. I write their names, and any details about them that might jog my memory.

Then the next Sunday, I try to review my notes in case I see them again. Or if I see them, I pull out the notebook (if I can do it discreetly), refresh my brain, and then go talk to them. Chances are, if I know your name, you were in my notes before you were in my brain.

  1. Stalk people online

I’m not a big fan of social media, but wow, it makes this task easier. As a staff (I hope this isn’t too creepy), we find pictures of new people and learn who they are together. Seriously.

If I wrote someone’s name down, but for the life of me can’t remember, I’ll try to find them on Facebook. This is super helpful.

  1. Find a good app

Similarly, you can find a good app to use. I’ve not gone this route yet (I tend to be a bit low-tech), but I know other staff who are trying it out, and I’m guessing I’ll jump in eventually. An app like Jog: Your Memories, which was actually designed by Christ Community members (I LOVE that!) or Name Shark. See if it might work for you.

  1. Talk to others

It also helps to talk to others. As a staff, we often talk about new people we met to try to help each other. It’s not uncommon for me on a Sunday to sneak over to another staff or congregation member who’s better at this than me, to see if they know so-and-so. Not only is this personally helpful, it also reinforces the expectation that this is something we, as a church, want to be about.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask again

Finally, as much as I hate this, you have to be willing to ask again. People understand, and they are always more gracious with me than I am with myself.

In this day and age, when depersonalization is the default, people are often just so amazed that you’re actually trying to know them, they’ll put up with a little forgetfulness. Besides, they’re probably just as lousy at this as I am.

From lousy to…slightly less lousy

See, no magic here. And I will continue to tell people how I struggle with this, because I know I will always feel like I’m forgetting way more than I’m remembering. But we can make it a habit.

See how much it matters, imagine a community like this, and then work hard at it.

Besides, isn’t it amazing that God knows our names? Oh sure, He’s God, so His “brain” has infinite room for nearly eight billion of us. So, yes, it’s “easy” for God to remember my name. But the fact that He wants to? Let that sink in. He sees you, knows you, and loves you. What else is there?

And you and I get to give people a taste of that incredible love. I’ve never felt so privileged to be so lousy at something.


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