Should Your Church Stop Having a Stand and Greet Time?

You never know what will strike a nerve in the blogosphere. A blog post I wrote Saturday went viral, and the comments, discussion, and debate are still taking place at that post.

It was really a simple article. I did a Twitter poll (not scientific, I assure you) asking first-time church guests what factors made them decide not to return. I listed the top ten in order of frequency.

The surprise factor was the number one issue. Many first-time guests really don’t like the time of stand and greet one another that some churches have. According to the Twitter responses and comments on the post, many guests really don’t like it, so much so that they will not return.

So what is it about this stand and greet time that many guests don’t like? Here are the seven most common responses, again listed in order of frequency.

  1. Many guests are introverts. “I would rather have a root canal than be subjected to a stand and greet time.”
  2. Some guests perceive that the members are not sincere during the time of greeting. “In most of the churches it should be called a stand and fake it time. The members weren’t friendly at all except for ninety seconds.”
  3. Many guests don’t like the lack of hygiene that takes place during this time. “Look, I’m not a germaphobe, but that guy wiped his nose right before he shook my hand.”
  4. Many times the members only greet other members. “I went to one church where no one spoke to me the entire time of greeting. I could tell they were speaking to people they already knew.”
  5. Both members and guests at some churches perceive the entire exercise is awkward. “Nowhere except churches do we have times that are so awkward and artificial. If members are going to be friendly, they would be friendly at other times as well. They’re not.”
  6. In some churches, the people in the congregation are told to say something silly to one another. “So the pastor told us to tell someone near us that they are good looking. I couldn’t find anyone who fit that description, so I left and didn’t go back.”
  7. Not only do some guests dread the stand and greet time, so do some members. “I visited the church and went through the ritual of standing and greeting, but many of the members looked just as uncomfortable as I was. We were all doing a required activity that none of us liked.”

There are some pretty strong comments at the other post, and not all of them are negative about a stand and greet time. But apparently many guests really don’t like the exercise.

Should churches that have a stand and greet time continue to do so? Is it more negative than positive, or vice versa? Does your church have this activity? How do you feel about it? I look forward to your responses.

Posted on November 3, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Sickness!! I pleaded and pleaded for my church to stop this. Finally I just didn’t participate. I just waved at the ones passing me by. My immune system is low and I was always getting sick. Once I stopped participating, I wasn’t as sick!! Then a couple of months later the act was just removed from the routine. I was very thankful. I now attend a different church and got to figure out how to politely convey my issue along with the ones posted.

  • Hi Thom,

    Thanks for posting the results of informal survery. I was surprised at the findings as well. However, the underlying reasons why guests would not like this practice do make sense. I, too, am an introvert. If I were visiting a church for the first time, especially if I was looking for a new church home, I’d rather be “in the background”, assessing what I’m seeing rather than getting “thrown into things” at the very start.

    I thought I was the only one who found this practice annoying. How many times have I been told: “Find five people you don’t know and tell them Jesus loves them.” Really!?! There might not even be five visitors at our church that day. And if I did find them, why would they believe a stranger?

    Your insights are helpful since it reminds us that what we think might be a good way of interacting with the unchurched or those seeking for a church home might be just the opposite.

  • This is just another symptom of the self-centered, me-centered, selfish condition of people (and church people) today. Too many want anonymity, even “in church”. Even the possibility of a personal connection is a threat… and is truly a sad statement.

    • So, Michael, everyone should think exactly as you think or they are wrong. Isn’t that what we are hearing from our Government and the extremes in our society today? We are told we are intolerant, and hate-fulled if we don’t think or believe the same way or comply. I am basically an introvert, yet I mix with people all the time, but I can’t stand to do it during a Worship Service. It is often extremely awkward. If it works in some churches, then by all means it should continue. But it doesn’t work in a lot of congregations that I have attended. We ARE told sometimes what to do or say to strangers around us. That is very contrived, insincere, and uncomfortable. Find someone you don’t know, “give them a hug”; punch the person next to you that you have never seen before and say “you are special” This would be great if it were sincere, genuine and natural. I am all for mixing, but NOT during the Worship Service. It is so illogically disruptive. I like the “Flash Mob” example…It’s so apropos!

  • Until reading this article I was all for the stand and greet time and I have even encouraged that our congregation do it EVERY week. I loved this opportunity to get to know those around me and those new to the services. However, I am also an extrovert and I really do enjoy these kinds of things.

    The article has however caused me to be more considerate of those that are wired differently and it brings to mind a friend that is so introverted that I know if this kind of event took place during his first visit at a church you could count on never seeing him again. Many new visitors are already self-conscious and uneasy during their first visit that they don’t need their uneasiness to be compounded by things like this, or being told to turn and say something funny to a complete stranger. For heave sakes!, that even makes me feel uneasy!

    Most introverts like to meet people on their own terms and comfort level. Possibly the best time for meet & greet is before and after the service when meeting and greeting can be done on everyone’s own personal comfort level.

    Some new comers complain that not one single person greeted me at that church and others complain that they were so overwhelmed that it scared them away. I guess striking a happy balance can be difficult to do.

    • Robert Wall says on

      Hal, to me it’s the difference between an intentional practice and a flash mob. The “meet & greet” is the “flash mob” mode. Just have everybody wander around, and hope everybody gets appropriately welcomed.

      Whereas a little bit of planning can put somebody at the door of the building with a greeting and a bulletin, somebody at the door of the sanctuary to help the new people find a seat, and a pastor at the exit of the sanctuary after the service.

      Three intentional people as opposed to a randomized mob in the middle of the service.

  • I so wish churches would abandon the “passing the peace” moments. I’m a long time church goer and a specialized clergy person (and introvert). They are always awkward. I”ve just never had the guts to express that I hate it because it’s such a big “should” most churches live with. The fact that visitors don’t like it makes me bold enough to say please chuck it. Chuck it now.

  • Before welcome time we give away free bottles of hand sanitizer and then afterwards we let them know we only do this on alternating Sundays so they can come next week if it made them feel awkward! If we catch any members greeting anyone one other than members and not enjoying it sincerely we remove them from the church roll! 🙂

  • Thom,
    We are an average size Baptist Church in the US, and we do have a time of “fellowship” in our “worship” service. We do not have a “Stand (or Meet) and Greet) time, we actually take time to fellowship and we believe fellowship is an important part of corporate worship. We base this on our belief that the early church, meeting in homes, would have been a much more corporately intimate worship experience than we experience in most churches today.

    While our Worship services always have an evangelistic element, neither evangelism nor outreach are primary elements nor purpose of our corporate worship. We teach that evangelism and outreach are the “as you go” responsibility of every member of the church.

    It seems to me that most churches are more interested in putting on a good show so they can become “big” than they are corporately worshipping God. It’s almost like we come together to individually worship God. We are growing, but not with the goal of growing a mega campus, which is not very likely in Utah, but with the goal of replication, both individually and with campuses.

    My final thought. really consists more of questions. Not that I don’t think people on Twitter should have a voice, or that this has generated good discussion, but I do wonder if a twitter survey is a fair representation. Additionally, from the comments, it appears that the descriptions of a greeting time vary greatly. We may need to further define what exactly we are calling a greeting time, in what size church, how naturally it takes place, etc, to have a clear discussion.

    This is a great topic, but I would have liked better data and more clearly defined parameters. Could this lead to a larger, but better defined study?

    Thank you for challenging us!


  • Chris Hilliard says on

    THIS IS A HILL I’M WILLING TO DIE ON!! Just kidding. But, I do think that in smaller churches pastors/worship leaders are a little timid of removing this element because some members will act this way. My first pastorate would point out visitors from the pulpit and “welcome” them and we also sang happy birthday to any with birthdays that week (including visitors if we got them to raise their hands when we asked who had a birthday that week). We moved away from both but I could tell some members “missed” doing both and didn’t agree with the change. Some members see it as a wonderful act of hospitality and can’t fathom who would object. Just one of those weird issues we pastors have to deal with.

  • Thom,

    Love your stuff!

    We do the stand and greet. We also send out “First Impression” Cards where first-time visitors are asked what they like best and least. In a decade of sending these cards (which are pre-stamped, and returned anonymously), I have had not even one person tell us they disliked the stand and greet time.

    This whole discussion is a surprise to me, just as it was to you. However, we are continually reexamining what we do with the aim of serving Him and others with excellence.

    Thanks for helping us reflect.

  • The purpose for people to get up and greet is so they can be “that community” the church is supposed to be.
    Problem: It takes more than 30 seconds of meet and greet to be a community.

    A church I was previously at had an area where the coffee and donuts sat at with tables and chairs which was like a little cafe. I believe churches having these areas create more of an environment for people to converse thus creating that community.

    Meet and greet realistically doesn’t work.

  • I ask myself what good it does, or can do.

    Then I ask what negative impact it might have.

    Lastly, I conclude it contributes nothing to the worship of God, or the adoration of His Son, nor is it more comfortable for introverted members than it is for first-time visitors.

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