Whenever a pastor or worship leader prods us to “stand and greet your neighbor,” I muster my little smile and go through the motions. “Good morning. Good morning. Good morning.”
I assume the goal is to shake as many hands as I can in 60 seconds. I usually squeeze seven or eight hands as I twirl like a little helicopter in the pew. But I’m a chump compared to the wiry guy who works the church from front to back, speed-shaking his way through 20 to 24 hands per minute.
But what’s the point? I know the intentions are good. To show we’re a “friendly church.” To demonstrate God’s love. To promote relationships.
Problem is, most stand-and-greets don’t deliver well. Following orders to shake hands differs from exhibiting genuine friendliness. Few visitors determine a church’s friendliness based on how well members obey orders. Church growth researcher and author Charles Arn found that most people don’t determine friendliness on the shake-o-rama time. Or on the assigned performance of greeters at the door. What’s the most telling time for them? It’s the minutes after the service—when authentically friendly people talk naturally with newcomers. Or not.
If you care about showing friendliness and encouraging relationships, here are a few suggestions.
1. Move the suggestion to talk with others to the end of the service. Encourage us to linger and enjoy the company of others. This allows for meaningful relational time, beyond a perfunctory “good morning.”
2. Rather than asking us to stand and shake, give us something interesting to talk about. Perhaps relate it to the theme of the day.
3. If you’re serious about the intended goals of this exercise, provide a meaningful length of time. Rather than a 60-second dash, carve out 10 minutes for the faithful to really get acquainted and share how God is working in their lives.
It’s a good thing to nurture relationships among God’s people. I like to talk genuinely with new and old friends at church. But I’m weary of being a reluctant, misplaced serial Wal-Mart greeter-in-a-pew.
Being an Episcopalian, I note that the traditional format/greeting is “Peace be with you” rather than “Good morning.” Extending peace even if ever so briefly has a different purpose in the service than “meeting and greeting.”
I went to a Catholic church with a girlfriend one Sunday back around 1990, and they did the “Peace be with you” thing. As a visitor coming from a Baptist church at the time, I thought that was rather odd. I had no idea what the point of that was.
LOVE this! This has been my thinking for years!!!! When I have the courage to say it out loud….church people look at me like I suggested having drums in church :)))))
Drums are great if the person playing them can actually play and uses high quality cymbals, not these dreadful cheap clanking things.
The meet-n-greet can break ground with a new person next to you but it is better to take the time to talk to new and current attendees right after church. That is the best time to check others out more deeply.
Like, for ticks…?
After church sounds good, but if I were in leadership I think I’d have some folks more or less “assigned” to stay after — as in an outreach ministry. It can be volunteers, not paid staff, but more intentional. Our church has a huge emphasis on home “lifegroups,” understanding that real relationships are more likely there. In fact those are referred to as the “real” church with Sunday morning being the worship gathering of all.
I have to say, as one who wants the church to succeed — actually, it will succeed despite us, so I want the church to do better at specific tasks — at some point we need to point out the positives. Not as tasty as pointing out the faults, but in the interest of balance, necessary.
Lots of websites talk about the importance of Touch. (I found one which recommended giving 5 hugs a day!!!) Many people nowadays live by themselves, especially older people. Many people are too reserved to touch other people. I talk (and also importantly listen) to people after the service but I am usually too reserved to touch them or shake hands then. So I welcome the opportunity (however forced) to go round and say “Peace be with you” and shake hands.
We are becoming a society that over analyzes everything, even the “Welcome Time” during our church services. If you feel “prodded” or if you have to “muster up your smile” to welcome and greet those around you on a Sunday morning then you might as well stay seated. Leave the “Meet and Greet” time to those who are truly thankful to see individuals and families at church, when they could have easily stayed at home. As brief as it may be, it is a joy to be able to greet and welcome those who made a conscious decision to attend our church.
Steven, I’m not sure you caught my point. Please read the second half of the article. As I concluded, “It’s a good thing to nurture relationships among God’s people. I like to talk genuinely with new and old friends at church.” I’m suggesting, with some constructive examples, how we might enhance and improve our relational moments at church. If, however, there’s no room for improvement at your church, then don’t consider changing a thing.
There is a cartoon I saw somewhere in which the pastor instructs the ushers to hunt down all the introverts hiding in the restrooms during the stand and greet.
For some of us this particular method of encouraging personal connection seems shallow and is actually alienating.
Steve, I hear what you’re saying. And not everybody likes every song played, or the color of the carpet. When we first attended our current church we were impressed by the friendliness — we were actually invited out to lunch on our first day. We should be critical of the church and its practices in an attempt to improve it, but at some point I think we need to balance the scales and realize every decision will be embraced by some and not by others ( I say this as one who does find fault with church practices…often )
I agree — not everything works for everyone. But Thom may be onto something by suggesting stretching the thing out or moving it to the end (also so it can be longer). My wife and I have been visiting a number of different churches over the last six months and have felt far more comfortable in the churches where people are allowed to linger.
Placing it at the end is dangerous for the ones who need it most will disappear! Sixty seconds would definitely strain opportunity for genuineness, so I would favor a greeting time of undetermined length. ~ Last Sunday night I attended a Marshalese service. I didn’t understand a word, but toward the end, after offering had been taken, an announcement of some sort was made, and after sitting quietly for some time, various ones got up and either went to others in the sparse congregation or to the front where they knelt briefly before returning to their seats. I asked my Marshalese friend what was going on; he said “Jubilee!” To my repeated queries of what that consisted, he struggled for English terms, and then replied again, “Jubilee!” with a look that said, ‘what do you mean that you don’t understand?’ I wonder if that time was their equivalent of greeting?
This has certainly been debated a lot in both the church I attend and the church where I work. In smaller churches, it seems to work better as it is often easier to figure out who the visitors are. For me it also provided a chance to greet people I might only see once a week. I agree that it does need to be more than a minute to have the right impact.
Steve, I feel your pain. Introvert myself. And it’s true, coolmusings, that there’s not a church practice that gets a 100% endorsement from everyone. We introverts are often not against meeting new people and that’s not the miss with this practice of speed-greeting at church. The problem is that we’re being pushed to do something that’s very uncomfortable and there is absolutely no up-side or benefit; quickly smiling at 15 people does nothing to connect you with any of them. Far better to “right-size” the practice as described in the blog: connect with one or two or three people in a meaningful way, with a prompt that lets conversation have a starting point.
Just this past Sunday, I sat with one empty seat between me and two ladies I had never seen before, who I am fairly certain were visiting the church. I was really hoping that our pastor would have a “meet & greet” time during the service, but he didn’t. The second the service ended, the man sitting on the other side of me (a regular attender) tapped me to ask where my husband was. I replied, “He’s working,” and turned back toward the ladies. In that literally 10 seconds, they had gotten up and left. THAT is why I LOVE meet and greet times during the service! We have an extended coffee time after the service every week, and we are ALWAYS reminded to “talk to someone we don’t know before we talk to someone we do.” However, the visitors often don’t stay. I think we need MORE meet and greet times during the service, albeit with a good question given to ask, not just instructions to shake hands. It is also a great suggestion to leave a little more time, although I think 10 minutes is too long. That can be an uncomfortably long time for a visitor who is short on words themselves and a bit overwhelmed with all the attention. Five minutes is sufficient, with good instruction to look around and find someone you do not know to talk to. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater; keep the meet and greet, but refine it, give sufficient time, provide direction as to who to chat with, and provide some ice-breaker questions to get the conversation rolling. Follow it up with an extended coffee time after the service where conversations can continue.
I guess I’m a strange kind of introvert that enjoys the meet and greet. Maybe it’s because I’m usually working in Kids Ministry that I enjoy the few times I’m in the Big People service when I can be that “wiry guy” who works his way from one end of the sanctuary to the other, shaking as many hands as I can.
In the Anglican church following the Absolution of sin we have the Peace. Having made peace with God let us show that peace to one another. We move about and greet each other with “Peace be with You”. We do follow the service with a cup of Interdenominational Roast coffee; so I usually have tea. Different people bring some morning tea cakes and sandwiches.
I think it is quite good really. No one is looking to weld dynamic multi-million dollar business deals at this time or discuss their burgeoning real estate port-folio. People where I go seem genuinely happy to see my face and it gives me a chance to stretch the legs as I am usually sitting in the musicians corner playing with the other musicians.
I think a 20 second conversation opens doors for a more meaningful conversation after the service. The point isn’t to have a deep conversation or develop a deep relationship during that time, but to make an acquaintance that sometimes becomes a more meaningful conversation later.
Jodi commented on Facebook: “Ours is at least a half hour to 45 minutes right at the beginning…we start out talking to each other about our week; people that are hurting…or people that are healing/celebrating…people that need something that we might be able to help…to me that’s doing life together and that’s part of our worship experience…”
Julie wrote on Facebook: “Cannot stand the fake hello handshake meet and greet.”
Unbelievable…a handshake, greeting or even a simple smile is only as genuine as the person behind it. Julie might need to find a new church family.
Can’t say I’ve ever been to church (including the one I grew up in for over 20 years) where the meet and greet led to anything meaningful. It always felt forced and shallow. Even if people DID want to get to know each other, there is little time to make any kind of connection. I think that’s part of the point Thom is making. Find a time you can devote to genuinely getting to know people.
Many years ago, when I let on to the worship committee that I didn’t believe this act of worship was what we said it was, they quickly determined to end it. The habit persistent, apparently, because people thought the pastor needed it. Liturgically, we called that moment “the passing of the peace of Christ,” but virtually everyone experienced it as a superficial performance of friendliness. The unspoken message to all of us, particularly visitors, was that we really aren’t who was say we are and aren’t doing what we claim to do. Another hypocritical nail in the coffin.
As I’ve often been the new person in the congregation, I freeze over when “meet and greet” happens. Often people reach over or around me to shake the hand of a friend rather be forced to greet someone they don’t know yet. I just stand there wondering what to do next.
I’ve attended xenophobic congregations; in one such church, I figured out early the problem, so went to the front door and greeted the people as they entered. ‘Hi, I’m George and this is the first time I’ve been here, but I’m looking forward to a great time of worship and learning together!” The congregants were much happier, after that!
The point being that the greeting need not be long; but it is imperative that it be genuine.
Xenophobic must be a new word. I’ve only started to hear it literally in the last couple months and I’m 47. I suppose that is something you’ll find way out in the sticks away from the city. I work with people of many cultures… Spanish, black, Romanian, German, Japanese, Chinese, Indian and middle eastern…. Oh and Russian and Korean… and Brazilian. This is just in my workplace. I mostly have to work with sister companies in Mexico and China but on occasion our German office. The point is, people are people. Despite some cultural awkwardness, everybody is the same. Occasionally we have people come over from Guangzhou, China or Japan and I always forget about their little business card sharing ritual. I’m the sloppy American and just hand it to them one handed. Then they hand me their card with two hands with their card facing and readable to me and do a little bowing thing. Then I’m thinking to myself, “Oh, yea, I forgot.” Oh well. I think I fit better with people visiting from Mexico and Germany because they don’t have any awkward formalities.
Aside to ‘Ryan’ [next]: ‘Xenophobic’ is a word I first encountered in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Heaven” by Gary Freeman, one of my most favoritest books ever, which I may have read about fifty times, give or take, and cited almost as many. The OED claims the word was first used in 1926. BTW, a xenolith is a rock that doesn’t belong, which I think the OED was giving as a reason for ‘xenophobia!’
What I learned in seminary about “passing the peace” brought an intentional healing to an ancient act that over time and misuse has become meaningless superficiality and avoidance, I think, due to lack of knowledge and fear of commitment to one’s neighbor not only the stranger. The original meaning of the custom is deep and rich and requires true caring of – and as – a brother or sister in Christ. When we are asked to share Christ’s peace, it is a moment when one should look into the other’s eyes, connect to the heart, and remain there, searching for hurt, grief, sadness and attempting to fill it with “the peace that passes all understanding.” And if we find there instead joy, then to bask and rejoice in it together with an understanding that God has found us and loved us and we truly know it. Perhaps you will get to only one person if done with intentionality. Seek out those who are aged and lonely, lost or confused by tragedy. Reach out with one hand and cover theirs with your other and offer Christ’s peace…healing in the midst of unspoken pain.
The M & G is all well intended but pretty useless in practice. Can interaction that’s been essentially ‘forced/commanded…etc’ really make me feel more welcome? No. Would that person have shook my hand or said hello if this opportunity hadn’t been given? I’ll never know. But I’m pretty certain, folks being what/who they are, that NOT going thru the motions would have been MORE embarrassing for them. Hence the low valuation of the ‘greeting’.
Reinforcing and practically demonstrating the shallowness of a symbolic relationship does more damage. It may make some of the folks all warm, fuzzy and tingly and give them comfort due to the routine and familiarity but it isn’t helpful to the newby.
Also, give me more than 15 minutes between services where it’s all about flushing out the first lot so the 2nd lot can get in. Give me time to get decide whether I want more time to get to know you.
Guys (and gals) our culture has shifted dramatically since you were a newby. What worked then and what had value and significance is all too often a surfacey lick and a promise. For a genuina newby / outsider, they’re going to want more. Hey! I want more! even though I’m not a newby and have been doing this stuff since swaddling clothes.
Thankfully, I have more but don’t deceive yourselves into believing that a quick good morning or phrase repetition can substitute for friendliness and a ‘welcoming atmosphere’.
Love you all, but time to get real. Thanks Thom!
Better still, open up the meeting and let anyone present go to the mike and share what God has put on his or her heart! https://stevesimms.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/political-correctness-vs-participatory-church/
Hello Steve, I’ve attended various Pentecostal services where they do that and it can be grindingly painful listening to the “Twaddle” that some come up with. I found that there is the usual suspect always getting up and rabbiting about something as though they had a direct line to upstairs. I am glad we do not have this.
Yes, Kevin. Participatory meetings are not automatic. They require oversight. Sometimes you have to meet with someone one on one and help them understand that it is not to be a showcase for them. We frequently remind people to only speak when they feel prompted by the Spirit. We take time to listen to God and then encourage people to say and/or do only what He tells them. Also, having a period of anointed worship before the sharing begins, helps keep (and get) people in tune with the Spirit.
I personally feel that the meet-and-greet times serve no lasting value. Never have I recalled the person that I met during that time, and quite often those that hold these times as valuable can’t remember the names or faces of those they just shook hands with. Even a longer time is less likely to have people remember if it is sandwiched between singing and preaching time, like so many churches do. So I really appreciate, and hope many churches see value in, moving this time of fake interaction to a point in the service that it becomes real relationship development.
Similar are the gargoyles that stand in the doors greeting everyone as they enter. I know many like myself that have anxiety over meeting someone in such a manner. It also has a great feel of false interaction to me, as do store greeters. I purposefully will look for an alternative entrance as they stand in my way preventing access. I have spoken with those that will refuse to attend, or even try, an assembly of God’s people because of these false feeling displays.
So Thom thanks for revealing this. I hope many pastors and shepherds see it and recognize God made a variety of people and not all are built for such interactions.
Hello, I have visited other churches of our denomination when I have been travelling. The thing that freaks me out is when a well intentioned (I think???) parishioner descends upon me with a “Barrage” of questions; who are you, where are you from, give us a quick run down on your family connections, and so on. Often they just want to go on about their family connections to the area and do I know old Jock Turnbridge because he helped build the church building way back in 1742 and he is their great, great, great, grandad on their mothers side twice removed. I have had to politely say that I am, 1. not interested, 2. a foreigner and have no relatives here, and 3. I am just visiting. This kind of “Greeting” I find unpleasant and a bit overwhelming. I think if people have a genuine interest they could invite one to lunch and behave in a more normal and civil manner.
When I was worship leader I would always give the congregation a phrase with which to start their greeting. It was “music” to hear “Jesus cares for you”, “You are special to God”, “Jesus is alive!”, ‘This is God’s day.” and the like echoing through the sanctuary!
Good plan, David Hall, but rarely followed! People get self-conscious saying something that sounds foreign and unnatural to them. Better to be genuine and learn something about the person being greeted to be able to pray for them.
Very often the phrase came from the opening song. They had said it and sang it so they readily used it.