Recently I was visiting a church that has a well-established Howdy Doody time. As the regular members of the congregation greeted each other warmly, my wife and I were left standing there awkwardly. The pastor gave us the required hand shake and “glad you are here” greeting before he rushed off to have a more in depth conversation with someone else. As the congregation continued to hug each other and talk about ball games and vacations all around us, there we stood, wondering what to do next. I noticed another person also standing awkwardly alone a few rows up. So I took it upon myself to go greet him. He seemed relieved that someone finally broke the awkwardness. As we exchanged pleasantries, I learned he too was a visitor, from the next town, having recently retired to the area. And so we awkward visitors had a bit of a chuckle and were relieved when the worship service finally resumed.
Though the church may have thought that Howdy Doody time was displaying warmth and kindness to their visitors, in fact, they were proving that they were a closed group that left visitors on the outside. Even in churches where someone has trained the regular attendees to greet the visitors, in my experience, it is most often a stiff greeting with a limp handshake before they rush off to have a more animated conversation with someone they know. In the hundreds of churches I have visited during my nearly 20 years of denominational service, I do not recall a single Howdy Doody time that was actually warm and friendly to visitors. Perhaps there is such a church out there, but I have yet to visit it.
Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate if this is something that churches need to continue to do. Perhaps it is better to train our congregation to show real interest to visitors before, or after, the worship service. Perhaps engaging visitors in real conversation might be more effective than the limp handshakes and awkward greetings. Perhaps it is time to retire Howdy Doody time.