In my most recent post at Episcopal Cafe I described research on how individuals react to feeling warm or cold, or to thinking about feeling warm or cold, and how it affects the sense of being included. (If you haven't read that, take minute to do so; and while you're there, take some time for other good stuff published there.) Since posting that, I learned about some additional research. I learned about it in this item from NPR's "All Things Considered." The research it's based on was published in the 10/24/08 edition of the journal Science. You can read the abstract on line here.
This research also had to do with holding something warm. Subjects were students at Yale University. In one experiment, subjects were riding an elevator with another student, who would alternately ask the subjects to hold a cup of either warm or iced coffee while riding up. Once upstairs, they were asked to read a description of a hypothetical person and describe that person's personality. Those who held warm coffee generally had a more positive impression of the hypothetical person than those who held the iced coffee.
In another experiment, subjects were asked to hold and assess either a medical hot pack or a medical cold pack. They were then asked to choose a reward for participating. Those who held the hot pack were more likely to choose a reward as a gift for someone else instead of for themselves, as opposed to those who held the cold packs.
Again, I think perhaps we need to take this seriously for evangelism and for incorporating visitors. Certainly, greet them with a warm handshake. But perhaps it's also worthwhile to greet them with a hot cup of coffee as well. Perhaps it's worthwhile to turn up the thermostat, or develop our own sorts of "prayer shawls," to help people feel comfy in the pews. Being warm to people - literally physically warm - appears to have some good results, at least in terms of people feeling welcome. We are an incarnational, sacramental people. It shouldn't be a stretch to take steps to take our spiritual warmth and make it physically manifest.