You were there on Sunday. The worship team finished their powerful set, the upbeat and informative announcements concluded, and to avoid that tense transition for the pastor to quickly arrive on stage, you were exhorted to rise out of your comfortable seat and to turn to those around you and smile, shake a hand, and “greet” one another.
Pastors feel it is a great transitional element in the service. Regular churchgoers appreciate a moment to make their way back to their normal seat because they arrived late for church. And first-time guests consider it the most horrific moment of their week, and a great reason why they won’t be coming back to that particular church.
Here’s four reasons why our church doesn’t do the “stand and greet one another” moment:
1. It’s Awkward
Does anything more need to be said here? Consider what it’s like to be a visitor at a church you’ve never attended before. You’re coming to worship with a congregation of people you’ve never met. You’re listening to a teacher you don’t recognize. Ideally you would be evaluating your experience based on how God moves and speaks to you. But the level of uneasiness you feel in this new environment causes you to seek what is comfortable and recognizable. Visitors are anxious and apprehensive about everything in your church: the location, the style of music/preaching/prayer, the kids’ ministry, the theological beliefs and philosophy of ministry, and if the mission of the church is something they can get behind. But more than anything, visitors are nervous that they won’t connect with anyone in this body.
But more than anything, visitors are nervous that they won’t connect with anyone in this body.
Requiring someone in this position to stand up and randomly say hello to someone under compulsion creates a very awkward moment, to say the least.
2. It produces a culture of disingenuous courtesy.
My wife and I love to visit churches while on vacation because it is always encouraging to see how other people are doing ministry in a different context than we are. One time while visiting a church in the foothills of North Carolina, we attended a small enough church that it was pretty obvious we were first-time visitors. On cue, we stood during the “greeting” time, and not a single person greeted us. I was actually offended that no one would extend the courtesy to say hello to me, and had a hard time appreciating the rest of the service.
To build honest courtesy at our church (Shoreline), we have parking attendants welcoming visitors as they arrive and park. As people walk through our doors, they are welcomed with a smile and a fistbump. We have a table set up in our foyer called a “Welcome Center” where there are various information cards about different aspects of our church. In the back of our Worship Center we have a “Guest Center” where we encourage guests to bring their connect card and exchange it for a gift (a coffee mug and helpful information about our church). And rather than taking the time to informally greet, we utilize those 30 seconds each week during our announcements to thank people for visiting our church. We address them as our “guest” and point them towards our information class that we host on the last Sunday each month so people know exactly how to get plugged in and how to get involved in our church. So our church culture all points towards considering guests as a primary focus, not an afterthought.
3. Hospitality is more than a handshake.
The Bible mentions greeting one another a lot. In fact, in Romans 16 Paul mentions “greet” 22 times! When we consider the New Testament church’s greeting, it was much more “awkward” and “invasive” than a handshake. It was actually a kiss, and is mentioned in five different places and by both Paul and Peter (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, 1 Peter 5:14).
Vine states “There was to be an absence of formality and hypocrisy, a freedom from prejudice arising from social distinctions, from discrimination against the poor, from partiality towards the well-to-do. In the churches masters and servants would thus salute one another without any attitude of condescension on the part of or disrespect on the other. The kiss took place between persons of the same sex.” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W. E.Vine).
The word ‘Hospitality’ means to show love to strangers. In the Old Testament, it was a command for Israel to extend love to the outsider (Leviticus 19:33-34). In the New Testament, it was a central part of Christian worship (Romans 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9, 3 John 5-8). This is why hospitality is a core part of who we are as a church. We make sure that every “stranger” is welcomed, loved, and received by our church so we can honor Jesus and reach our community.
We make sure that every “stranger” is welcomed, loved, and received by our church so we can honor Jesus and reach our community.
4. People need an environment of true depth and intimacy
Thirty seconds of handshaking doesn’t create an environment of depth and intimacy. It actually creates the opposite. People who aren’t greeted (like my wife and I on vacation) may end up feeling slighted. When people say, “Good morning, how are you?,” and you don’t know them (or you only have 30 seconds) chances are you aren’t going to really divulge the stressful details of your week. You’re just going to force a smile, shake their hand back, and say, “Good, how are you?”
In today’s churches we are seeing an increase in slick production and “professional”-style ministry. There is a wide gulf between the elevated stage and the audience, both literally and philosophically. People are used to following celebrities with big personas and retweet their short catchy statements to their own followers. Worship becomes an emotional event about us rather than being about the Gospel. Our relationships are becoming reduced to text interactions that require minimal risk and minimal reality.
Our relationships are becoming reduced to text interactions that require minimal risk and minimal reality
I actually heard about someone giving their “two-weeks’ notice” over text!
In social circles, people seem to be more “shallow” than ever before. What we need is more genuine koinonia and life-giving relationships in the place where people need it most: the church of Jesus Christ. So take my advice, drop the “greeting” time, and start building true community this Sunday. I promise I’ll give you a fist bump the next time I see you.