The Church “Stand and Greet” Time

members_6997cnIn my church tradition (Southern Baptist Convention), the welcome time has always been incorporated into the worship service. It varies from church to church, but it is typically a time when members and guests stand and offer and hand-shake and a word of welcome.

In a recent post, Thom Rainer, a denominational leader, reported the results of an informal Twitter poll of first-time church guests and what factors made them decide not to return. Surprisingly, the “stand and greet” time was the number one reason. He found:

1. Many guests are introverts. “I would rather have a root canal than be subjected to a stand and greet time.”

2. Some guests perceive the members are not sincere during the time of greeting. “In most of the churches it should be called a stand and fake it time. The members weren’t friendly at all except for ninety seconds.”

3. Many guests don’t like the lack of hygiene that takes place during this time. “Look, I’m not a germaphobe, but that guy wiped his nose right before he shook my hand.”

4. Many times the members only greet other members. “I went to one church where no one spoke to me the entire time of greeting. I could tell they were speaking to people they already knew.”

5. Both members and guests at some churches perceive the entire exercise as awkward. “Nowhere except churches do we have times that are so awkward and artificial. If members are going to be friendly, they would be friendly at other times as well. They’re not.”

6. In some churches, the people in the congregation are told to say something silly to one another. “So the pastor told us to tell someone near us that they are good looking. I couldn’t find anyone who fit that description, so I left and didn’t go back.”

7. Not only do some guests dread the stand and greet time, so do some members. “I visited the church and went through the ritual of standing and greeting, but many of the members looked just as uncomfortable as I was. We were all doing a required activity that none of us liked.”

Rainer admits that there were strong feelings on both sides of the question about the practice’s helpfulness in reaching guests. He summed it up by saying churches must considering its place in their local context.

I decided to do my own informal poll on Facebook and found a similar mix of responses. From germaphobes to introverts, a few tried to avoid it. It saddened me to hear from one that said it was partly the reason she stopped coming to church. Curiously, those who most vehemently objected to the exercise came from outside our region of the country. Those associated with our church who are not members left comments like:

I like to meet and greet and sure it can be a little intimidating at first but it helps you to get out there and get to know those around you. Otherwise we’d all be caught in our own little shells.

I like it! When your new to the church, people notice and make you feel welcome.

My thoughts:

  1. The church is all about creating healthy relationships – with God and others. When people see a church that has genuine care and concern for others, it is appealing. I have had multiple conversations with people who were considering coming to our church and I’ve stepped them through the “what to expect” list. When I mention the greeting time, they’ve not been put off and have even mentioned that their own church was so cold that no one spoke to them AT ALL! I would much rather err on the side of a friendly greeting time.
  2. We must be considerate of those who are uncomfortable and not expect everyone to fit our mold. We have several in our body who don’t like hugs. I respect that and don’t force myself on them.
  3. I shake hands with more people than anyone else on Sunday…I am germ conscious and have probably gotten a few colds through this practice. But, we encourage “fist bumps” in flu season and keep a large jug of sanitizer at the welcome center.
  4. A forced and contrived greeting time (except on Easter – “He has risen…He has risen, indeed”) has never been our practice. I object to being told to repeat something and insincere greetings are obvious.
  5. It saddens me to hear that people would not come because of the “howdy-do” time. However, as one respondent related, it may be the most affirming moment some have during their week. As Christians, we are called to move beyond our own wants and needs and consider the needs of others (Philippians 2:4 – Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.). A widow in my last church said the thing she missed most after the death of her husband was no longer having hugs. We made sure she got those hugs after hearing that. Even if you don’t like the “stand and greet” time, someone around you may need that greeting, hand shake, hug, fist bump…think about what someone else may need in the moment.

I believe churches must always evaluate their methods of conveying the love of God in their context. In rural Iowa, despite some who are uncomfortable with the practice, it still seems to work.

12 thoughts on “The Church “Stand and Greet” Time

  1. A lot of people spend so much time at work during the week that I wonder if some of those who do not like to participate in the meet and greet time have trouble ‘changing gears’. Many work places have an atmosphere that is competitive and unfriendly. It can be hard to open up to people if you are someone who has to spend so much of your time during the week in workplace like that.

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    • That’s an interesting perspective, Peter. That could be true. Additionally, some want a break from the “hustle and bustle” of life and desire their worship to be more contemplative and private. Thanks for joining in the conversation!

      BTW: I loved your origami post. I watched that video and was totally confused by the end.

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  2. Great post, Pastor Chuck. I think a lot of it has to do with the world we live in today. A few years back, people still sat on front porches drinking tea with their neighbors. On Tuesday night, you got together to play Bridge. If someone was sick, there was a knock on the door and a casserole presented, etc. Today that sort of thing often exists only on reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show”. We live in a world where a lot of people only socialize via text messages and Facebook, and any face-to-face interaction seems awkward. People are more apt to send a message to their next door neighbor via Facebook, than to actually walk a few feet, knock on the door, and say “Hi, how are you doing?” I’m not judging anyone nor trying to say what’s right or wrong, I’m just observing the world around me. I fear one day, if this anxiety about face-to-face social interaction continues, everyone will be attending church via their iPads and cell phones, and there won’t be a physical building anymore.

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    • I think you’re right, Darrell. I see more and more posts from friends who extol the virtues of their church’s online podcast because it fit THEIR schedule without consideration of the missing element of body-life and the special personal connections that we need. Thanks for weighing in on the topic.

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  3. Great article! I am a hugger, but I do try to respect those who aren’t. I also try to respect the ‘unspoken rule’ of women hugging women, but shaking men’s hands. Of course, there are a few exceptions, because some of us can hug the opposite gender as brothers and sisters without any untowardness. Is that a word?

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    • Thanks, Rene. While we have never met, your posts and comments cause me to not be surprised that you are a hugger. I think the key is showing respect, especially to guests. I have, however, had guests who hugged me before they had even heard me preach (and they hugged me afterward, too). I generally offer my hand and let them take the lead.

      And yes, “untowardness” is a word and appropriate in this context, meaning “inappropriate.” 🙂 Again, I appreciate your comment and “like.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • One of the things I appreciate about the church’s greeting time, that I attend, is we don’t just stand and turn to shake hands and greet one another. We actually have a brief time of walking around and greeting one another. Some remain in their seated area and wait for others to approach, while many walk around hugging, seeking hugs, and/or shaking hands. There are lots of smiles. I can see how even then, some disingenuousness may be felt, but it also seems a lot warmer than remaining in one place.

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  4. Good word. And interesting about the regional thing. Being in the South, it certainly feels more contrived….but people feel more contrived here, in general. I have never sensed the fake thing in the Midwest. People are also more reserved in the South so it is more awkward. But you are right….the me gen puts our needs first, “I don’t like this. Let’s get rid of it.” Instead of “someone might need a warm hug or smile today.” In my experience, churches who drop howdy do time don’t howdy do at all.

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    • Thanks, Anna. It was “inner-resting” (inside joke) to read comments on Rainer’s original blog. Lots of the “me” feelings expressed. Until we move the church (and by church, I mean the people) away from what “I want” to what “God wants,” I think the church will continue to lose it’s voice in our culture. When done correctly, I think the “stand and greet” time reflects in a small way what Jesus commanded of His followers: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:33-34, ESV).

      This blog generated a conversation, regarding who the weekly worship service is for in the first place. Ultimately, it is for believers. Although it is the place of first contact with believers for some unbelievers, it is like a weekly family reunion. We know in our family who likes hugs and “sloppy wet” kisses on the lips and who doesn’t. But it doesn’t deter us from expressing our love in some fashion for both.

      Thanks for you comment and continued posts at http://itsallbananas.wordpress.com/ and http://citymomsblog.com/fortworth/

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