Welcome to Season 1 Episode 48 of the Your Church Matters podcast. In this episode I reflected on a recent Facebook post that was one of my highest engagement posts ever.
The “Stand and Greet” time controversy
The stand and greet time in the worship service is a meaningful and time honored tradition that goes back to the early church. What am I saying? It doesn’t even go back a generation! My earliest memories are from the 1990’s. The stand and greet time was a welcome change from the let’s single out our “visitors” and put them on the spot practices that had been prevalent in many churches. Stand and greet was actually a good transition to something else that is more culturally appropriate. The problem is that a lot of churches got stuck in the transition.
Thom Rainer wrote a blog post on November 1, 2014 that listed 10 ways churches drive away first-time guests (read the whole post here). His post was based on a non-scientific twitter poll that asked first-time guests what factors made them decide not to return. He listed them in the order of frequency and the number 1 response was the stand and greet time.
The post went viral. There were so many comments on that one issue that he wrote a follow-up post two days later that asked if churches should stop having a stand and greet time (read it here) and gave the 7 most common responses people gave about why they didn’t like it. Here’s the list without explanation:
- Many guests are introverts.
- Some guests perceive that the members are not sincere during the time of greeting.
- Many guests don’t like the lack of hygiene that takes place during this time.
- Many times the members only greet other members.
- Both members and guests at some churches perceive the entire exercise is awkward.
- In some churches, the people in the congregation are told to say something silly to one another.
- Not only do some guests dread the stand and greet time, so do some members.
Once again, the comments were many and passionate. I shared that blog post on Facebook and it generated a lot of likes and comments. Of the comments I received, the vast overwhelming majority of commenters agreed that the stand and greet time was a negative for them. Those who like it defended it strongly; some on Biblical grounds (one person said “we are commanded to greet one another in Scripture”). Some responded to the idea that it was uncomfortable for guests by asking why we should be concerned what other people think if it is meaningful for our members.
That’s an interesting perspective. “Why should we care about what our guests think?”
Earlier this year, I did two consecutive podcasts on the guest-friendliness of churches:
- Episode 41 – Make your church more Guest-friendly in 7 days
- Episode 42 – So, you think you’re Guest-friendly
That brings me to THE facebook post that I referenced at the beginning of this episode. It was one of those silly little humorous meme’s that show up. It was a picture of a well-known British comedic actor with these words: “I only joined the worship team to avoid the ‘greet those around you’ time.” The original post has more than 3200 likes and over 7000 shares. My share generated more likes and comments than anything I have posted that was not a picture of my granddaughter.
Of those who commented, only 1 likes the stand and greet time. And she, very honestly, said that she likes it because she gets lots of great hugs. I can’t argue with the value of hugs and I think people ought to get as many hugs at church as they need. I’m just not sure there is not a better way to facilitate it than the stand and greet time. I’m a hugger myself. I also dread the stand and greet time in whatever church I may be in on Sunday. It is the second worst part of the worship service for me (the first being the announcement time – Episode 7 – The worst part of Sunday morning).
Some concluding observations about the stand and greet time
- Many people really don’t like the stand and greet time. Most guests don’t. Many members don’t. Some people dislike it enough that they would rather go to church somewhere else.
- I have yet to see any research or surveys, either scientific or anecdotal, that indicate that a majority of people (even church members) believe it to be meaningful
- Some church members and leaders do like it. They tend to be extroverts who enjoy engaging with people and would likely find plenty of ways to do that even if the stand and greet time were to be discontinued today.
- You can make a solid Biblical case for the gatherings of the church to be primarily for the church. You cannot make a solid Biblical case for the church to be deliberately inwardly focused and inhospitable toward those who are not yet part of the family.
- Any church custom that defies common sense and common courtesy needs to be revisited
- Most churches have no idea what kind of impression they are making on first-time guests because they are not being intentional about it
- Apart from guest or member considerations, the stand and greet time can actually take worshipers minds off the real reason for the gathering–the corporate worship of God.
Is there a better way?
One more Thom Rainer post from August 10, 2015 – Seven steps churches are taking to replace the stand and greet time. If we are going to suggest something is not working, we better be prepared to consider some better possibilities.
- Can you give a solid reason why the stand and greet time is the most effective and meaningful way to engage worshipers with God and each other?
- What alternatives would you propose to accomplish what most churches really want to accomplish through the stand and greet time?
Coming December 18, 2015 … In search of Spiritual Jedi …
The revised and updated version of my book Culture Wars releases the same day as the new Star Wars movie. I am encouraging my friends to buy the book from Amazon on that day. There are some special bonuses that will only be available to those who purchase on December 18. Click here for more information.
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*Special thanks to Keith Cooper (Guitar Music)