Every time the pastor or worship leader prods us to “stand and greet your neighbor,” I paste on 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.