Seven Steps Churches Are Taking to Replace the Stand-and-Greet Time

I would have never expected the response to a topic that seemed so innocuous. On this blog many people were very vocal that they really didn’t like the stand-and-greet time during the worship services.

To be fair, there were some defenders of this practice. I was able to segment the hundreds of responses into three groups.

  • Guests: Overwhelmingly, guests do not like stand-and-greet. Very few indicated they did.
  • Church members who are strong extroverts. This group tended to be the vocal supporters of stand-and-greet. They really like speaking to both strangers and acquaintances.
  • The rest of the church members. The majority of the church members did not like the practice. It is the time of the worship service they dread.

So almost all of the guests do not like the stand-and-greet time, and the majority of the church members agree with them. As a consequence, many churches have dispensed with this practice.

But church leaders are finding other ways to keep their congregations friendly during the worship services. In this follow-up post, I share some of the new practices I have discovered.

  1. Conclude the services on time. The most natural time of fellowship takes place at the conclusion of each service. But, if the service goes long, many attendees are in a hurry to get their children from the preschool area, or to make previously scheduled appointments.
  2. Use the most outgoing members in critical places. One church has a highly extroverted senior adult lady as the receptionist to the preschool areas. Her sole, but critical role, is to greet parents and children, and to provide them a clear guide of where to go and what to do.
  3. Ask your most extroverted members to sit by guests and converse with them. Most of those who defended the stand-and-greet time where these extroverted members. Use them in other ways. And if the persons they find happen not to be guests, it’s not the end of the world. It’s okay for members to talk to one another.
  4. Ask your most extroverted members to mingle intentionally before and after the service. There is certainly a pattern developing here. The extroverted members want to act extroverted. Give them permission to do so. A few churches are even offering training for these extroverts.
  5. Have clear signage that lets guest know where to go. One church had the following signage at key entry points: “Guests: Follow the signs to our coffee gathering or to take your children to our safe and secure area.”
  6. Encourage people to speak to each other at the end of the service. If the service ends on time, encourage people to chat on the way out. Those who desire this interaction will do so. The rest will have permission not to do so.
  7. Have people wear shirts or badges that clearly indicate they are available to help others. I recently attended an event where people who could provide help wore brightly-colored shirts and well-marked badges. A church of which I’m aware does the same. The badge says in clear and bold letters: “I Would Love to Help You.”

Ultimately, friendliness is more of an attitude and atmosphere than a planned action. Leaders should provide such examples and continuously remind members to be hospitable and friendly at all times.

The meet-and-greet time is going away in many churches. These are some of the practices that are taking its place. Let me hear from you on this issue.

Posted on August 10, 2015

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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  • What more can I say? You did justice to the topic

  • For a few years I have been attending a nondemoninational church in South Carolina that does the “hug your neck” meet and greet. Once everyone is seated, the pastor makes weekly announcements. Then we pray for the offering and anyone else in the church who is deemed to need a special public prayer. Then he tells people to bring their offerings to the baskets located at the front of the church so we can hug your neck on the way. There is a countdown clock on the wall allowing 4 or 5 minutes. At this time the loud band plays. There are a few things that bother me about this which have been mentioned in previous blog posts. People come across as insincere like the extroverts are making a game of how many necks can be hugged in five minutes. One police officer wearing his gun totally grosses me out as he routinely places his hands on both sides of my face, pulls me close, and leaves a sloppy wet kiss on my cheek while breathing heavily in my ear. (I’ve stopped complaining about this to my husband because he thinks it’s funny and clearly thinks I just need to lighten up.) The strong smell of breath mints in the air makes me nauseous. I do not enjoy watching all these women hang all over my husband (an extrovert) like a bunch of groupies. If/When they greet me (many don’t), their greeting is typically something like, “You have an amazing husband!” or “I just love your husband!” or “All the girls love your husband!” or “Aren’t you ____’s wife? He is TERRRRRRRRIFIC!” That’s right…never anything specific like they want to get to know me, and most of these women just walk on by and don’t even acknowledge me when they make their rounds.

    Our church’s motto is “Loving God by Loving People.” Last month the pastor gave a sermon that he ended by saying, “If you don’t love people, you have no business here.” He says God expects us to do His work through our relationships with people. I’m struggling with that. As a formerly sexually abused child, I have come to the point that I have forgiven my attacker, but I don’t love him. In my job, I deal with crazy lying people for whom I feel empathy, but I can’t say I love them or ever will. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel comfortable hugging all these strangers because of my past abuse. Plus, I’d like to think church is for everybody who wants to come, so it concerns me the pastor has the nerve to tell people they don’t belong if they don’t love others. I mean, really, how can he say that? I’m supposed to love mass murderers like Hitler? Again, I can bring myself to forgive, but to expect me to love (and hug, hug, hug) is stretching it.

    Overall, I am saddened by the way the church has ironically become a sore spot in my 22-year marriage. We get along great during the week, but there are usually arguments on Sundays or any day I mention something I didn’t like or agree with that happened at church. As an elder, my husband is very protective of what goes on there and to criticize the church is viewed as a criticism of him and disrespectful to God. A few months ago, I told him it bothered me that he goes running around hugging all those other people, yet he doesn’t bother to hug me, and I think he should hug me first. So, now he starts by hugging me, but even he sometimes acts disingenuous like he wants to get it over with so he can move around and see people he hasn’t seen in days. I get what seems to be a brief obligatory hug while people I barely know get long meaningful-looking hugs from him. Just yesterday, we started to hug and a woman came between us, put her hand on the front of his chest to push us apart, and started joking with him! After church we ate a nearby restaurant and some of the groupies came to our table to laugh and joke with my husband. One suggested that I come to church more often! Hello…I’ve been there all but two or three Sundays this year. Maybe if she stopped fussing all over my husband, she’d notice me?

    As you can see, I’ve got some issues to work through, but I feel the “let us hug your neck” routine just exacerbates the problems. Occasionally I’ve recommended that Meet & Greet be replaced by silent prayer and meditation. In a 60-75 minute service we typically never have any time for quiet peaceful self-reflection and prayer, and there is no time for self-reflection and independent prayer during Sunday School. I just have to do that when all sorts of commotion goes on around me or wait to pray a personal prayer when I’m not at church. When I suggest we try another church, my husband says I can go do that on my own, but he’s staying at the church we already attend and will not go with me to just try something different.

    Please say a prayer to help me get this straightened out and find some peace. Thank you for highlighting the discomfort some feel toward Meet & Greet. I at least feel comforted knowing I’m not alone.

    • J. Payne says on

      You have some valid concerns. I think Meet & Greet is vital, but simple handshakes would be adequate. I am a hugger, but it means nothing more than “I think you’re awesome, glad we can worship together.”

      The hugs may not mean anything to your husband, but they could mean something to some of the ladies other than just a greeting. He needs to take this into consideration.

    • Hi “Carolina”, I am an introvert and people can otherwise call me what they will, but this whole practice sounds inappropriate. There are always those who will take advantage of such touchy feely stuff in the name of “Christian love”. This environment easily sets the stage for anyone who doesn’t have the right motives and chooses to prey on an innocent person. Many people would not be comfortable with this kind of promoted hugging. I for one would never return. As far as the “groupie women”, another totally wrong thing to blatantly disrespect a wife and vie for attention from her husband. I am much older than what I presume you must be, but I also have a husband who loves attention and loves to flirt with other women. It is an awful thing to endure and to have to watch. I would never think of flirting with another woman’s husband, and in front of her, no less. And if I ever did, I know my husband would be very upset! The worst part of this whole scenario is that you sound like you’re blaming yourself when you say “I’ve got some issues to work through”. Take heart, my dear sister in Christ, your concerns and feelings are valid. Don’t the Scriptures tell men to love their wives as Christ loved the church? What would Jesus’s answer be to this problem; how would He treat you, and want you to be treated? And wives are to respect their husbands as the head, which you are doing by staying in a situation that you are clearly uncomfortable with. I pray that God undertakes for you. Blessings to you!

  • I have read most of the comments above, and find valid points in all of them. Also, some conclusions that I don’t agree with, because God made us humans each very different individuals. I agree with the statement that a lot of people use the ‘stand and greet’ time to chat with their friends (because they all sit together in the same spot every Sunday). I have been guilty of this myself. But after moving and needing to find a new church, I became painfully aware of these actions and how it must have felt to visitors around me. One solution is to educate the members as to the importance of greeting newcomers and at the least, asking their first name. Extroverts might be encouraged to set in designated ‘sections’ as suggested earlier. The visitors’ center is also a good idea. One last comment – I find that a lot of churches have very loud exit music so that it is impossible to greet anyone without getting right up in their face. Could that be toned down a bit? Thank you.

    • Christmas eve, I brought my young adult, painfully introverted and shy daughter to church with me. I prayed this might spark a desire to return to church again. In the sermon, there was a time for people to turn to each other, in groups ro discuss an issue being discussed. My daughter looked like she would bolt. The person beside her was alone and looked very uncomfortable. This was a service when there would be many visitors and I Felt uncomfortable for all of them. Welcoming people is part of who Christians should be. Interupting worship for an artificial time of greeting is not comfortable for many. Forced discussion with strangers when you may not even know what the discussion is about is painful for many. I am an introvert and have learned how to fake it and rise above the discomfort. However ask me to pray unexpectedly in groups and I break into a sweat. Condemning me for how I feel or react is not God’s way. I am sad that my daughter such discomfort even on Christmas eve.

  • I find this entire conversation saddening.

    Introverts … extroverts … what I like … what you don’t like … surveys. These things are all about us. They distract us from our true purpose in worship, which is to LOVE GOD. We need to be teaching our people that worship isn’t about our own comfort. It isn’t about being fed. Rather, it’s about feeding Him.

    Instead of saying, “God, my tank is empty … fill me up,” we should teach our people to say, “God my tank is almost dry, but what I have is Yours,” trusting in His overflowing abundance to meet our needs.

    I would challenge all of us to seek ways we can better show authentic, extravagant love for Him — and leave earthly desires at the door.

    • I agree!!! Your comments are the most intelligent thing I’ve read. We are spending TOO much time doing surveys and worrying about what the congregation thinks over every little thing. Too much research about church practices instead of focusing on making disciples and dying to self. 90% of the modern church’s problems are self-absorbed church members and the church leaders reinventing the wheel trying to please people that cannot be pleased–no matter how much change in enacted.

      • While I greatly dislike the “greet” time, I do not make an issue over it. But an issue that is constantly talked about in the winter is the spreading of illness through this practice. I even had one lady warn me that she had a bad cold and I should be sure to wash my hands after the service! Sure enough, I got sick within 24 hours. When we talk about “worship”, we all have different ideas of what that entails. I like to worship in song but every week someone on our praise team always has to give us a mini sermon during the songtime. It’s boring and distracting. I want to sing and then hear the sermon, not hear two. Again, I don’t complain, but one of our guests at Christmas even mentioned how that was boring and distracting (no prompting from me or previous discussion). At least I felt better that I’m not the only one who dislikes this.

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