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

August 10, 2015

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.

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  • Michelle says on

    Our church has our welcome center strategically located just outside our worship center doors. At the beginning of the service our Pastor welcomes all guests and asks them to fill out the visitor form on the inside of the bulletin and place it in the offering plate as it passes later in the service. At the end of the service our Worship Pastor again greets our guests and asks them to head directly to the welcome center just outside the worship center so that we can thank them personally for visiting and offer them a small gift. I’m not sure what all is in the gift bag but I know one thing – a carabiner – with an explanation that we hope they will get “connected” to Christ and His church! We have VERY extroverted, friendly, warm people manning our Welcome Center!

  • Doug Miller says on

    We did away with it here shortly after you published the first article. As people began to notice they might say something like “When did we stop? When I told them 3-4 weeks ago they would then say something to the effect of “I never liked that part anyway.” The #1 comment o get from guests now is “This is the friendliest church I’ve ever been in!” So, Meet-N-Greet is gone. BTW, I quit doing announcements just because at the same time. Only those last minute and of major importance to the entire church are made during the service. Not heard one complaint about that move either.

  • Torie Pendleton says on

    I think we can keep the meet and greet with some targeted actions. Those extroverted people can be allowed to make sure they greet every new person. My biggest issue with visiting churches around the country is that we stand there and no one acknowledges us. Honestly, 90% of the churches we’ve visited have no one designated to address the visitor. We always end up standing there awkwardly waiting for someone to say hi to us. I, because of these experiences, decided to be that lady who introduced myself and tried to make people feel welcome.

    Large churches can do this also. As a member of Thonas Road Baptist Church, one of the largest churches the SB has, you could tell whose area was whose. Even in a church that size, people are creatures of habit and they still do meet and greet. One way to help during this time is to station your extroverts in sections and make them the greeter for that area. Not officially per say, but ask those people who sit in the same area Sunday after Sunday to make the people in their area feel welcome during that time.

  • In our small country church, (membership 36 and rising) we pass the ‘Peace of Christ’ by rising and mingling in the aisle. It is a joyful time that includes everyone as equals and friends. We once had some folk who claimed they did not like the practice, but after it had been stopped for a time, those same folk requested that it be reinstated, because they missed the friendly atmosphere that it generated. Our 131st Anniversary Service on Aug. 9, 2015 had 44 attendees.

  • We visited Bethesda Baptist, in London, many years ago. During the service, which was over about 11am, they announced a visitors’ reception following the service. We went to that, and there were quite a few visitors, along with the pastor and a number of members. I recall enjoying that very much, and it gave visitors who wanted interaction with members a really handy and simple way to do that.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      That’s good information. Thanks, Bob.

    • Sue clark says on

      I have suggested many times that our church should have a gathering for visitors to come and meet members on a casual basis after worship or before worship. I think this would make them feel more welcome and want to be a part of our church family.

  • Jeffery Hunt says on

    It’s my understanding that the stand-and-greet is a holdover from the holy kiss and passing of the peace. Perhaps we could revert back to these.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I’m running if anyone tries to give me a holy kiss.

      • Jeff makes a good point. This is the ancient church tradition (holy kiss) where this practice originates and one of the reasons we should not dismiss it too casually. Even introverts care about people – probably even more genuinely than extroverts. Do we really believe that someone can’t take 60-90 seconds to say good morning to a few people from their church family? If not, the problem is probably much deeper than personality types – it would seem that there must be an absence of true community…?

  • Thom, this is making a simple matter a little complicated.
    Our greeters and ushers wear tags, Who is going to identify and tag extroverts and how are you going to strategically place them? Scope out the crowd and them move in on them, I’d leave and never come back. I do not mean to be overly critical I know a lot of work goes into your research but the church should be a friendly welcoming place.
    People should feel the love of Christ if He truly dwells there. Blessings.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Russ –

      At this point, I am merely the reporter on church practices. Perhaps in the future I can examine the tactical matters related to these practices.

  • I agree with this article. Even as an extrovert, I always found this time in churches to feel forced and lacking authenticity. I never felt that helped the churches image. Thank you for addressing this.

  • What most people probably don’t realize Thom is that the stand and greet time and many of our churches is the low-church counterpart to the liturgical practice known as ” passing the peace.” This is been an aspect of the Christian gathering for worship for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Granted, if a practice is not clearly taught or evidenced in Scripture we have the freedom to except it or rejected it. So just because Christians have done something for well over 1,000 years doesn’t mean we have to do it. However, I think our congregations are often worse off for taking creative license and trying to improve on the cherished elements of Christian worship throughout the ages.

    • “Passing the Peace” can be a lot more than “stand and greet.” When taught and practiced well, it bestows God’s blessing, not just a shallow hospitality expression. While it traditionally precedes or follows communion, I do think the idea of moving it to the end of the service as a communal benediction (which means blessing not dismissal) could work very well. It would fit with a process Rev. Phil Olson (then of 1st Presbyterian Church, Mt. Holly, NJ) called “the two minute drill”. The idea is to encourage members (extroverts in this article) to speak to someone they don’t know in the first two minutes after the benediction. Guests often head for the doors. “Two minute drill” hospitality can head off the guests complaining as they drive home that no one spoke to them. But I do believe much is lost when the “passing of the peace” loses it power of being a blessing and degenerates into “stand and greet.”

  • Oliver Beans says on

    I recently took the pastorate of a church has a unique greeting time. The church meets in almost a coffee shop type environment, so after the music there is a full five minute break for people to get coffee and food along with greeting others before we move on to the message.
    I’ll be honest, for many of the reasons you have listed and others, I’m not sure I’m a fan of this practice . However, it is so engrained in this church I’m not sure what to do with it.
    Thanks for all you and your team do Dr. Rainer!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Oliver –

      Give yourself some time as the new pastor. The change may not be worth the disruption at this point.

  • Darlene Johnson says on

    This makes me sad to even think about. I’m an extrovert but I have also moved a lot and have needed to find a new church home many times. While the options listed sound great in providing new options towards creating a friendly environment, I’m sad to think about guest walking in a church (that should be a place inhabited by friendly people), and the guest taking issue with a friendly practice like “meet and greet”. Are there statistics that show how many guest don’t want to get to know those they go to church with? Shame….

    • Darlene:

      See my previous posts on the topic.

      • I would like to see the previous posts on the stand and greet time. I also move frequently, and test a fellowships friendliness on this, among other things.

    • It is different for introverts. It’s not a case of not wanting to be friendly. It’s a case of needing to become friendly in one’s own timing. The stand and greet forces friendliness at one designated moment, whether one is ready for it or not. I am one of those who dreads this moment, even in my own home church. I am there to be in a worshipful attitude, not a social one. In my opinion, social time and worship time are two different things.

      • Thanks, Pamela. Your perspective is representative of many who responded to earlier posts.

      • Question! If people are not comfortable with simply speaking to people in “Church” how in the world will they share, proclaim, or defend the gospel to unbelievers outside church. Sorry I think this is coddling church members. Church and worship is not about yours or mine comfort but about self-sacrifice.

      • I totally agree. Can’t say I’ve ever developed a deep relationship through a quick, passing handshake. There are MANY ways to get to know people, but the greeting time really isn’t one of them.

      • I am also an introvert and dislike the meet and greet time. For one thing, I haven’t gotten to “know” anyone this way even though I’ve been subjected to it for years. It’s all surface, a ritual, and meaningless. It isn’t that I don’t want to get to know people, but I need to do it differently. I’m a one on one type and being forced into any social situation is difficult for me, which I know extroverts don’t understand. I have an extrovert daughter who is energized socially while I am exhausted. Bottom line is that it really isn’t meeting the purpose. Someone greeting me on their own in the entryway is far more meaningful and welcoming. I remember one person out of hundreds in all my years of meet and greet that I felt gave a sincere greeting during this time and I still remember her and her warmth. Also, people tend to sit in the same seats every week and therefore greet the same people, not the new ones. Yes, I’d love to see this practice go away.

      • Yes! People always sit in the same place! I wonder if we should implement a “seat lottery” for church members each week? 🙂

    • Unfortunately church members often talk to each other and leave guests and/or introverts to stand alone.

    • Wayne Knockel says on

      What I find sad about your comment Darlene is that is does not take into account the feeling of the introvert. Once I get to know people, I will greet, hug, chat, all that stuff. But if I don’t know you, I am wary. I will stand back. I don’t necessarily want to be hugged by you. I don’t necessarily want to hold hands with you. And for you to say “shame” to people like me means that you would rather make me feel bad about my way of functioning than to contemplate that perhaps a different practice may be more hospitable.

    • When I visit a church for the first time, I anticipate being greeted and to experience a greet time during the service. I recently visited a church where no one spoke to me except when I approached some people and asked them how to get to the worship center. No one spoke to me in the worship center or as I exited. I also noticed that absolutely no one lingered to talk with others. I completed a visitors card, but have never been contacted. The message I received was that I was not welcome in the church, so I haven’t been back.

      • Steve Egidio says on

        I have had similar experience. It is very sad.

        The Church where I attend has “meet and greet” about the same moment as the first worship song is being started (at least in the service I attend, and we have several). It is usually a higher energy song and gets people engaged fairly quickly. I am part of the worship team so I can observe what is happening. This seems to stem the discomfort a bit, because people are engaged right-away.

        I personally do not have an issue with a “meet and greet” time, because I am a more extroverted person. I always make it a point to seek out someone I don’t know to greet. I can see my friends anytime. I have never been turned away.

    • It’s the feeling of being singled out and having all eyes on you in the middle of a worship service that makes people uncomfortable. Especially in the churches that have all the visitors stand before the handshake time so the ushers can see them to bring a visitor card. I’ve never liked the practice for this and a few other reasons.

  • Andy Weems says on

    The only churches growing in my area give a way a nice gift that guest hold in their hand as they leave prompting other guest to ask where they got the gift. Some churches have a first time visitor room (nice friendly space and near the entrance/exit) where they get information (hosted by extroverts members) and share about the next step, small groups. They give aways drinks, snacks and a really nice gift as the guest leave. A gift people will use and not just an advertisement for the church.

    • Those are good practices. Thanks, Andy.

      • “Stand-and-Greet Time” is incorporated in the Episcopal church with sharing the peace “Peace be with you” reply “and with thy spirit” or just saying “God’s peace” and clasping hands. At first (years and years ago) this didn’t go over at all but seems to have become more accepted. I suppose it’s more intimidating for visitors who don’t know anybody. I believe it is probably easier in smaller churches where most people know each other or have at least met. It is a good way to meet people. Become more of a “body of believers” not just a bunch of people who go to the same building every week. We do have coffee hour afterwards and the minister greets people as they leave the church. Concluding the services on time seems to depend on who is giving the sermon in our church because the service is established in the Book of common prayer. Sometimes if there are more people at church it takes a little longer because it takes longer to take up the collection and celebrate eucharist. The most natural time of fellowship takes place at the conclusion of each service. We use the our most outgoing members as our ushers. Provide them a clear guide of where to go and what to do is not always met.
        We do need to ask our most extroverted members to converse with guests and converse with them. That is not an official request though. If the persons they find happen not to be guests, it’s not the end of the world, they meet new people that way. It would help us to have clear signage that lets guest know where to go as we have different building to move between, such as “Guests: Follow the signs to our coffee gathering” at key points. We do have shirt available with our church logo on it but only a couple of people bought them. A badge that says “Hi, how may I help you would be good” because they could introduce themselves by name but at least the guest would know they were there to specifically help right off.

        Our vestry member could set the example and be hospitable and friendly at all times.

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