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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  • Wayne Knockel says on

    I have said that it appears that churches hate introverts. It is as if modern churches feel like the more touchy-feely they are the more welcoming they are. But what about the non touchy-feely people who enter? I keep hearing the underlying refrain of “They just need to become more like us.” I have heard the words “painfully shy” my whole life, but never “painfully social.”

    It is hard to explain, but when social situations become ramped up, it CAN feel physically painful. When there is too much stimulation coming into my world, I can feel the need to escape. It is not that I don’t care for people or that I don’t love people, but often I am just overstimulated (used in the psychological sense of the word.)

    When people continue to press for social contact, especially when I am not ready for it, it just becomes overwhelming and it will drive me away.

    If the intent is to create a church for the extroverted, be that church and be extroverted to the glory of God. But also realize that for some, all of this is not welcoming at all.

    • Glenda Winter says on

      I like the comment someone made about the “painfully social”. I have been a Christian for many years and love my fellow church members. Is it necessary to walk around and touch everyone? I have purposely come into church after I’m sure the church-wide handshake is over. Guess I should be thankful we don’t practice saluting one another with a holy kiss!

  • While I understand and agree that the “mandatory” stand and greet time is somewhat forced and “awkward” – and especially for less extroverted folks (I’m not one) – I also recognize that some opportunity to “mingle” is necessary.

    Churches that are focused on a small group strategy to build community can lose “organic” opportunities for fellowship and community of they don’t also have some scheduled mingle time. I read the prior articles you mentioned (but didn’t link to), and While they clearly evidenced a point of view – they didn’t provide any statistics on how widely held that perspective was, and for those who don’t share it, what are your opportunities to connect.

    I really liked your suggestion to leverage your more/most extroverted members, but it seemed always targeted at visitors – and not connecting those who attend but are not yet fully integrated into community. As a very extroverted person, I have stood in a bunch of church “coffee” times (non-forced greeting opportunity) and had the somewhat frustrating experience of just standing their waiting for a conversation opportunity and eventually leaving feeling absolutely leprous because I was not greeted.

    I read one comment that said “it felt like crashing a family reunion”. I totally echo that sentiment. Regardless of whether a church has mandatory or optional greeting opportunity – there is a strong need to be intentional about how we interact on a Sunday morning when “less integrated” attenders are in our midst. Frankly – it is less about “greeting” and more about forming connections – people whose names we know, and we are familiar enough with that starting a conversation feels natural not forced. How we help others go from visitor to family friend to family member is an important part of our ministry.

    Congregations sometimes need to be reminded that being a “tight” community often feels like cliques from the outside. Being intentional about welcoming people is not just a job for a few extroverts. Welcoming does not stop after the first (or the tenth) visit.

  • I’m really struggling with this. I’m about 80% extrovert. I feel Christianity is supposed to be a public thing, a social thing. We are supposed to be there in front of people. However, as a society we have retreated from our neighbors. We don’t want to be confrontational. We want to be left alone. Now, more than ever, people want to just be left alone. In our church I will get the congregation to hold hands in a large circle for prayer. We will turn to each other and shake hands or (god forbid) hug. What I wonder is…are we aiding and abetting people’s poor choice to retreat from the world by not shaking hands and being personal. I’m all for trying new things. Adaptability is my #1 strength. I just can’t help but wonder if we are making the right choice by going this route.

    • Wayne Knockel says on

      Instead of thinking about Introverted people as “wrong” (my word, not yours) think of them as “different.” I am not unsocial, I am differently social. I go to worship to worship. I have coffee afterward to be social. I hug people I want and I reach out to people I want. But I have been led to feel “wrong” by congregations that ask, “Why aren’t you more bubbly?”

      You can say that you get everyone to pray in a circle; but what about the person who is not ready to touch someone else? It is worse to sit there and have everyone look at you than to stand in the group. But it is still uncomfortable, and it really doesn’t get better with practice.

  • This is great insight into how folks feel about it. However, in some cases the meet and greet is born out of a need/desire to let the choir exit from the choir loft. It becomes a matter of logistics. Our church seems to function well with the meet and greet going on as the choir is exiting, and children are moving to children’s church. Many people make their way all over the sanctuary and chat and fellowship with each other. However, it does seem awkward to some people. It is good to know how they may be feeling. This gives some food for thought. As summarized previously, it seems that how well it functions depends largely on the culture of your church – friendly or not friendly.

    That said, how about a post on church service logistics/flow? What is some good advice on how to structure the flow of a service as to not break up the flow of worship. Or, are there some resources out there for that? That’s a little off topic, but again meet and greet is often born out of ‘necessity’ (quoted loosely.)

  • For years I wondered what was wrong with me that I didn’t like this practice! I am an introvert, I don’t want to be forced to search out a friendly face to shake hands with when I don’t know people and may not feel safe. Some people have been hurt by others and forcing them into hugs, handshakes, eye contact with a stranger may be difficult. As I develop confidence in a new church, I am ready to be more outgoing and friendly but I don’t touch unless I sense the other person feels safe with me. As a quiet introvert, a larger than life extrovert can be overwhelming. We need to be sensitive to all of our church family’s needs.

  • Thom, are you aware of any studies that indicate what percentage of the general population is extrovert vs introvert?

  • My church in Zimbabwe invited guests to a meet and greet room, between ten and fifteen minutes before the services ended. The guests met with biblically informed, but extroverted members. By the time the service end, the guests were paired with a member who lives close to them or works in the same trade.

  • Melissa Callis says on

    My husband and I are both disabled. We are both just 58 years old. People like us have special needs in the church: 1) We need lots of welcoming! We might not be feeling very well, and we would appreciate *gentle* hugs and handshakes. 2) We need a really accessible entrance. It should either be a sidewalk that’s flat or a ramp with railings. There should also be plenty of well-marked handicap parking. 3) We won’t be able to stand and sit a dozen times a service. Go ahead and greet us while we sit in the pew. 4) We would never be mad if you carried materials for us, opened doors for us, or even had ushers go and get our car and drive it up to the door for us!

    • Maurizio says on

      Thank you Melissa.

      How sad (but unfortunately how true) that us able-body people should be reminded of your 4 points above.

      Bless you!

  • Adrian Thane says on

    It must be a cultural thing here in the states because traditionally we never did this in the UK at churches i went to. Sometimes pastors would come back from the states and you find it going on but my home church it was normal for people to hang around after church and have Coffee or Tea and cookies together and talk about the week. rarely did people shoot of home to “get on” with the Sunday. Much like the Pastors do at church to greet new people. Not sure how my current church would handle that due to the size of the church, average size in UK 200 people at most. When i went home to see my dad this past month. I went to visit my old church and after the service we hung out there for more then 1hr together, it was great. I guess the closet i have seen in the culture here is the bring and share lunches but i think here in the USA that would probably mainly be just a collection of church members and not visitors, though it would give people something to encourage the visitors to come to and there they would meet others. Just a couple of thoughts.

  • Jim Susee says on

    It doesn’t have to be the worst case scenario, “Stand-and-Greet”, that would be like calling all sermons, “Sit-and-Stare” time. Implementing the things you suggested, AND, having a more user friendly fellowship time, could also be a solution. There are many good things that can come from this time. First of all, true, new, unchurched, introverts, with no one from church who knows them, may feel uncomfortable. But nothing brings more comfort than experiencing love. If they “feel good” about being able to come and go with no one acknowledging their existence, is that better? They already have that experience, daily. They have already left a comfortable setting by their attendance, their desire clearly isn’t avoiding people, perhaps God wants them to venture out, in a safe setting. Kind of a, “See? People were extroverts, and you survived. Keep trying new things my introverted child, I will be with you!” What about the visiting extrovert who would feel like no one loves anyone because everyone keeps to themselves until the most holy time is over? Pagans visit before, during, and after church. So, they would seem to be the “more friendly”. If the person who is assigned to be the extrovert next to the introvert, in the perfectly organized service, doesn’t do so, is no contact better than “stand-and-greet” contact. Evidently so. There is also the benefit of “Fellowship 101” if people are not willing to cross the isle and greet someone they don’t know and at least say, “Hi!” Why would we believe they would spontaneously become willing and confident enough to share their faith with a complete stranger outside the safety of a church? Fellowship time is practice for “reaching out”. If you aren’t even willing to reach out your hand, you certainly won’t be willing to reach out with the Gospel. We also have a prayer time at the end of the service and that is when our 92 year old saint invites people to receive your, “I am a Church Member” book for free. He always carries them with him. Hopefully that is a good use of our church time. I married an introvert. I am an extrovert. Part of why we are married is because I said, “Hi.” Our first contact wasn’t our only contact, but she was glad I didn’t allow her to be comfortable. Uncomfortable is different than unhappy.

  • 98% of the service (typically) is either sitting quietly and listening OR participating corporately together in an act of worship. Surely we can give a couple minutes for people to say good morning to each other without crossing some offensive imaginary line for introverts and guests.

    As usual the strength of a meet and greet/passing the peace will depend on leadership and how it’s communicated from the front. There are ways to make it lighthearted, casual and maybe even enjoyable!

  • Why is it that introverts are seen as a having an issue. Being one I would wish the extrovert sent to sit with me would leave me alone! No reply needed. I was just giving food for thought.