Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Why the Greeting Time May Be Hindering Church Growth

In my role as a missionary and church training consultant, I speak in a wide variety of churches on a regular basis. Many of them have some type of greeting time during the service. I suppose they think this greeting time makes them feel warm and inviting to guests. In my experience, the opposite is almost always true.

As a frequent guest in churches, I find the greeting time one of the most awkward parts of the service. During these greetings times, rarely does anyone come speak to guests like me. When they do greet guests, it is a polite handshake that may last a second or two. Then off they rush to greet something they know, which usually includes a hug and happy/giggling/enthusiastic talk for an extended period of time. The guest (often me) is left standing there awkwardly. Instead of making those of us who are visiting feel welcome, all this does is reinforce that we are not a part of this group. We got a polite handshake when others got a warm greeting.

It seems that greeting times make the regular attenders feel warm and loved. But it make visitors feel cold and exposed. My suggestion is to have church members come to church 10 minutes early, or stay ten minutes after the service, and do all their hugging and hand shaking and talking before or after church. Then drop the “official” greeting time out of the service and instead add in an extra congregational song. It will make the service more worshipful and less awkward for guests.

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Terry Dorsett has been a church planter and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. Find all of his books at:
http://www.amazon.com/Dr.-Terry-W.-Dorsett/e/B00405U4NY

34 comments:

  1. This is something that I have been concerned about for a long time, Brother Terry. Thanks for your comments about it. Often times the Pastor or Song Leader has to get the groups to sit down to continue the Worship Service.

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    1. I did pulpit supply several times in a church looking for a pastor where the greeting time was right before the sermon. It went on and one and on and I would just stand there in the pulpit waiting for everyone to sit down before I could preach. It made for a very odd transition.

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  2. Agree 100%. I also dislike the churches that ask everyone to hold hands while singing the closing chorus.

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    1. Sometimes I don't mind a "hand holding" moment when appropriate, but with complete strangers, in the winter time with all the colds and flu bugs going around, uggg.....

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    2. As churches try to be outgoing and friendly they will forget that there are many people who are introverted and feel quite uncomfortable with total strangers crowding around them and wanting to greet them. Often there will be people, members and visitors, who are going through trial and crisis and just can not be smiley and friendly with everyone. I speak with experience as an introvert who has seen his share of trial and grief over the last 30 years.

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    3. That is a good perspective to remember as well. Since I am an extrovert, I don't mind strangers talking to me, but when everyone else is talking to everyone else and I am left out, I feel it.

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  3. Robyn DeVaul AustinJanuary 6, 2015 at 9:34 AM

    Our church just recently did away with the greeting time, wonder if this is why.

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  4. We don't have a greeting time. But after the prayer of confession and the assurance of pardon, in which we are assured of the grace we have received by faith, we then take a moment to extend that grace to each other by shaking hands and saying, "the peace of Christ be with you". This has been well received by all, including visitors. This is a common long time practice in our Presbyterian congregations.

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    1. I think what you have hit upon there is that it is a quick thing, and done by all in the room, so everyone feels included, as opposed to an extended time where good friends talk and visitors are left out. If you are going to have one, then yours sounds like a better plan.

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    2. it is not always quick. And there have been amazing moments of reconciliation between people without attention being drawn to them. It is has become a very special time of our worship time.

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    3. that is interesting, I really appreciate your perspective on the issue. So while estranged friends are reconciling what does a visitor do who does not know the people or the situations involved? Is he/she comfortable just standing/sitting while people do their personal business with each other?

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    4. Actually, the visitors have engaged very quickly with those around them - our newest visitors are very engaging. I think because it is not about "welcoming" people but actually extending grace that the visitors get that. It is fascinating to watch. We are very welcoming at the door and during the announcements. But this passing of the peace includes them right into the heart of our congregation.

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    5. I hope everyone reading this comment thread takes time to read Bernie McGale's comments. He has shifted it away from a "high-five" time to being part of a worship experience. I'm curious if anyone else reading this discussion has tried that approach and how it is working.

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    6. I find the "passing of the peace" to be just as empty as meet-and-greet time. At least with the meet-and-greet you can say what you want to and not get looked at strangely if you go off script. (No offense, Bernie. I appreciate your defense of reverence.)

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    7. Andy, I do understand what you are saying, and have also experienced that in more liturgical churches. And that is what I thought Bernie was talking about. But it seems that he has somehow found a way to make it something meaningful. I find both of your approaches, which at the exact opposite of each other very interesting. Thanks for giving your input. It helps all of us think more deeply about this issue.

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  5. I think the greeting issue is petty and irrelevant.

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    1. I agree it is irrelevant for the visitor, but the reason it persists is because it makes the home crowd feel all warm and fuzzy, so they tend to think it is very relevant. That is why I suggest moving it to the front, or back of the service, because fellowship is important, but not at the expense of making guests feel out of place.

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    2. I am pastoring my third church. I have never experienced the criticisms of the greeting time. I am quite sure it happens in some churches but the way this issue is being presented it is as if every church does this. There seems to be an agenda to see that it is done away with everywhere. Personally I do not care one way or the other if my church or any church has one. My concern is the hyperbolic nature in which this issue is currently being pushed over and over again.

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  6. It's a missed opportunity. If you're going to do it, do it "intentionally." Make it a ten-minute break for coffee and treats. Make it a proper greeting.

    My church is experimenting with doing it at the end of service, as a means to keep everyone from rushing to the Golden Corral.

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    1. I would love to hear back from you in a few weeks as your church continues to experiment to see what lessons you learn about how to make visitors feel included.

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  7. It does occur to me that this whole issue is less important for a church that rarely has visitors. I suppose if all we have is the home crowd, then we can all just do what the home crowd likes. But, that in itself is an issue. If month after month we only have the home crowd, it says something about how effective our church is in reaching our community. Thoughts?

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  8. Interesting article. I wish we had visitors more often and I could gauge this. But the greeting time is just before the message at our church and provides a good transition. The children are able to go off to children's Church (because our song leader does children's Church) so it works well for us.

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    1. Thanks for sharing. You are correct that the issue is impacted greatly by the number of visitors you have. The fewer visitors, the less the issue is an issue. The more visitors, the more important it is for a church to think this through. Context is important, so do what works in your context

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  9. We just axed ours. There is time to greet before and after worship.

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  10. Most of the time the church members get the warm fuzzies from the welcome.

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  11. Michael ShortsleevesJanuary 6, 2015 at 4:35 PM

    100% with ya on this.

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  12. I so agree and have said it for decades. What I do is say "please greet someone around" after the benediction. The worship service isn't interrupted, the visitors usually have someone have a longer conversation with them and I can get out to the lobby before anyone else! :) Neal from Barre

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  13. I'm glad our church doesn't do this. My home church in Philly does it and it makes me feel uncomfortable. Most people just go to people they know well.

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  14. Michael ShortsleevesJanuary 7, 2015 at 7:59 AM

    I was Interim in a church in Vt for awhile where after the worship service, they would join hands, sing a little ditty and all raise there hands and say, "amen". I used to watch the older folks with arthritis wince in pain and understood right away why the church was losing people. Unfortunately, many churches are unwilling to move away from habits or traditions that are problems.

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  15. I think the greeting time can be effective if, for example, it is an intentional component of an overarching strategy to make visitors feel welcome. I may be in the minority on this thread, but I believe that we should regularly assess the way we conduct church services to determine how well the individual aspects of the service line up with what we believe God has uniquely called us to do. Not referring to our overall purpose for existence, such as glorifying God, which we should all be about, but understanding what is uniquely our mission and then looking at all ministries and components of worship service to see how well they align. My personal opinion is everything should be up for grabs except for solid, biblical preaching/teaching.

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  16. If your congregation is taught the blessing in properly welcoming visitors and guests, the awkwardness will evaporate and a sense of peace will overwhelm visitors and they will have a tendency to stay. In Shoreline Church, we not only have a greeting time, but we have fellowship - food and coffee and drinks after EVERY service. If you are going to extend a hand of friendship and welcome, then do it. Don't just greet people for a 3-4 minute "session" during service, because it looks like just another "religious thing to do", but extend it and welcome people to meet your church members, leaders and pastors after service in a casual fellowship. Your members will have time to meet and greet friends and potential new members.

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