Guest Post - Thom Rainer
You don’t hear much about it today, but it was a topic of amusing debate a few years ago. Its most common name was “stand and greet,” but it was also known as “meet and greet,” “passing the peace,” “greeting time,” and others. It was a time during the worship service when church members greeted one another and welcomed guests. Sometimes everyone would stand and greet one another. On other occasions, often to the horror of guests, those who were visiting were asked to remain seated while everyone stood (or even worse, to stand while everyone else remained seated). The members would seek out the targeted guests to greet them, speak to them or, in worst cases, hug them.
So, how has this issue moved from hotly debated to largely ignored? Here are a few salient facts.
The practice was waning well before COVID. In our last survey before COVID, only 18% of churches were continuing a stand-and-greet time in the services. It was steadily declining.
Our studies showed very few guests were comfortable with the stand-and-greet time. Though a majority (58%) of church members did not like the stand and greet time, it was particularly uncomfortable for most guests (89%). In other words, it was highly ineffective in welcoming one another, and a clear turn-off for guests. Again, these numbers are pre-COVID.
Today, the stand and greet is almost non-existent in churches. It was dying before COVID. Though we have not done a current survey, I would be surprised if more than three or four percent of churches resumed this practice after COVID entered the world. The virus was likely the final straw to cause the greeting time to cease.
We need to recognize that guests see friendliness through a different lens. They were clearly not comfortable with the stand-and-greet time. But they do appreciate the natural friendliness of church members speaking to them or helping them when they attend for the first or second time.
We must exhort and equip our members to be intentionally friendly to guests. That step begins with leadership, but it must be a consistent theme. Many church members used the lame practice of a three-minute stand-and-greet time to be friendly to guests instead of being genuinely friendly.
A well-equipped welcome ministry is incredibly important. While the welcome ministry should not replace overall friendliness in the church, it is vital to have members whose responsibility is to make sure all guests are greeted as they enter and that they are comfortable finding their way around the church. Of course, those in this ministry should be alert to sensitivities guests might have about shaking hands, getting too close, and other COVID realities.
The best way to get to know guests and make them feel comfortable is to encourage them to join a group. Groups are the lifeblood of churches. It is where true community thrives. Our church members should learn the habit of personally inviting a guest at the worship services to their group.
The pandemic accelerated the demise of the stand-and-greet time in worship services. It is not a bad thing. Now our members must learn to greet and welcome visitors to our church in a more natural and genuine way.
When that happens, your church will definitely be a more friendly and welcoming congregation.