How the Stand and Greet Time Disappeared in Churches (And How to Replace It)

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 where 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.

Posted on January 17, 2022


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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5 Comments

  • John Faleye says on

    Long time listener/viewer. First time sharing a comment. I wanted to, first, appreciate the very helpful insight that your articles have provided. I have always been encouraged by your material, and I don’t feel any different regarding this article. I do want to share my context, and then follow it up with a question:

    Prior to the pandemic, in the local church where I serve as a Campus Pastor, our MEET-AND-GREET time was something the congregation truly enjoyed because it gave them a chance to connect with others in the sanctuary. While, yes, it can easily become a time for people to catch up with those with whom they are “familiar,” our experience with this was that many of our guests felt seen and welcomed. In fact, it was one of the experiences that guests pointed to every week as to why they really enjoyed worshipping at our church. We plan to resume our meet and greet times in the coming weeks. That said, I will not be resuming having guests “remain seated and everyone else stand” as a way to identify who our guests are. Our plan is to encourage guests to join us at a brief reception we have at the end of every service, where we are then able to get more information via a Connection Card.

  • Ken Kroohs says on

    Thom: I have frequently recommended your materials and appreciate your research and thoughts. I have occasionally
    said some of your comments do not fit our context and moved on. This time I want to politely challenge you by saying I think you underestimate the intelligence and spirituality of guests and members. (We never have ‘visitors’ We only have ‘guests’.) That said, you are NOT underestimating the clergy’s ability to make things unnecessarily confusing. NOT underestimating the church’s blindness to the needs of their guests. “Passing of the Peace” – when done well and explained each week, is one of the most powerfully spiritual moments in the service. We have prayed for others (Prayer of the People), we responded to lessons and teaching by confessing our failure to love God and our neighbor, and now we are invited to turn to that neighbor (symbolically) and offer than God’s peace.

    The challenge leaders face is to find ways to instruct, not to simplify to the point of meaning less. (not without meaning, but meaning less) The same goes for language. There is nothing wrong with church language — if it has meaning and is explained. The word ‘narthex’ you ridiculed is a powerful word WHEN explained. It leads to an entire discussion of the theology of church structure … the altar being the ‘east’ etc. (Which can make an interesting reflection on similarities with the Islamic traditions.) That’s not something you explain every week so I would just say “narthex, the lobby” and move on. I believe people do not want to be talked down to but are interested in learning the traditions they are exploring.

    You are absolutely correct and I jump all over the use of ‘jargon’ ==> any word you have not used outside the church during the last two weeks. You mentioned recently the practice of telling people to meet in the ‘library’ with no instructions — TRUE!, or the use of abbreviations (EYC) – TRUE!, and my favorite, “see Mary with any questions” — who is Mary?? (One church I visited identifies a person at the door who can answer questions about any announcement.)

    Again thanks for all you do!! And for listening.

  • Dayton Mix says on

    In one of my earlier congregations, they affectionately called your “stand and greet” time the “muddle in the middle.” The kicker was one of the lay leaders used that time to deliver Avon orders to parishioners who ordered from her.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Ouch.

      • Prior to COVID the fellowship, where I serve as Pastor, engaged in meet and greet following the worship experience. During COVID we are still greeting one another through our zoom platform following the Sunday worship or weekly teaching ministry. The members say Praise the Lord and the persons name. Although a shorter version of in person fellowship there is a sense of community – community of the faithful. They call one another too. I am very pleased that we decided to use zoom in order to give the fellowship the opportunity to engage with one another. We are conducting hybrid services.. We will eventually install an independent system for live streaming for those who want to join us from the global community. They will not be able to meet and greet. This is a very exciting demanding time for churches. Praise the Lord! Hopefully the churches across the globe will continue to fellowship according to Acts regardless of the climate.