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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106 Comments

  • Ann Maniscalco says on

    Loved reading these comments, and think my two-cents-worth hasn’t been mentioned: Some who come into our sanctuary on Sunday mornings are looking just for this…sanctuary. They may be wounded (physically, emotionally, or mentally), they might have just suffered a big loss, they may be doing their best to just keep their composure and not scream out loud. Their deepest need is possibly just to sit and soak up the Lord’s goodness and tender care.

    What these don’t need (and certainly don’t want) is having their arm almost pumped out of its socket, being engulfed in a bear-hug by someone wearing too much cologne, or left standing awkwardly (wearing a forced happy face), while church members spend another five minutes or more catching up on the latest news with those they know.

    Yes, all who wish (members and guests) should have opportunities to fellowship and build community (before or after the service), but making it obligatory often doesn’t accomplish the desired outcome, and it definitely can repel those who desperately need to be reached.

  • As a new Christian visitor in a church 40 years ago, I was exposed to this tradition. But the fellow in the pew near me used the handshake to reel me in to put a hand on my shoulder and “pray” for me. After that, I was demonically influenced, but I didn’t know it. When I got a poltergeist in the wall next to my bed, I knew what that meant.
    I got a book on exorcism and cleaned myself up, regardless of what my Baptist fellowship thought. Freedom. I was kicked out of the fellowship shortly thereafter.
    Today the odds of running into an occultist next to you in the pew has tripled.
    Today, I pray over all the chairs & pews on a weekly basis. That includes salvation, spiritual maturity, blessing and deliverance for anyone who sits there. When a pagan comes into the church, they want to be left alone; they just want to see if God is there. When they sit down – they KNOW God’s there! Weekly, they get more & more used to this strange place. They go further & further forward. Eventually, they want to become a Christian and have fellowship with Christians. That’s when they will look for a social time and help with their problems.

    • This is a new twist to this whole concept-and a scary one at that. I still believe that greeting ought to come naturally and not be forced. You can force it all you want but once people get inside your church they will soon find out if you’re genuine or if it’s a ritual and meaningless. I still wish the stand and greet would go away but I’m in a church where it is ingrained and I know that won’t happen.

  • Our greeting time is essential for us as it helps us fulfill the Great Commission.
    There is no right or wrong here. The greeting time works for us!

    We have members stand. Ushers give guest cards to guests. Our people greet them. We collect the guest cards toward the end of the service in the offering plate. If a guest turns in a card, this is key in them indicating they would like a follow-up. We follow-up through staff contacts, lay person contacts, Sunday School invitations, and in home visits with permission. People are saved. People join our church. This is part of what God is using to grow our church.

    This practice may be waning in some places, but it is big with us. It gives us contact information for follow-up. Otherwise, persons would visit and we would never know who they were, would have no way to follow-up, and they might not return.

  • Rick Rufenacht says on

    This Sunday we will have Pizza with the Pastors after church. This is a gathering for those who are new to the church. I can guarantee you that 90% of the new people will say that one of the things they like about the church is the friendly greet time. We hear it every time we have this gathering. Our church must be an anomaly.

    • I suspect the ones that would find the greeting aspect uncomfortable will also not go to the pastor meet and greet over pizza. I have been known to go to a reception long enough to be seen and then leave quickly (after being at the same church for 10 years. ) I never would have gone to anything in the first few months.

      • I am obviously a real mixed bag socially. Being an extreme introvert, I greatly dislike the meet and greet. If I felt that it had any value I’d be more accepting, but it always seems so surface and nothing to connect anyone to the church. That being said, I try very hard on my own to do my part to meet people and get involved in the church. Yes, we went to the welcome reception for guests after the service, we did the “lunch with the pastor” on Sunday, I’ve gone to numerous women’s activities and Bible studies. And we got involved in a Sunday School/Life Group class right away. Many of these things were not on my comfort level at all, but I try. It’s the forced surface stuff that I like the least because I don’t have a choice in the matter-other than coming in church really late and missing the music. I know you will never please everyone (and I don’t make waves, I just go along with whatever the church does) but it seems that churches won’t even consider the other side and give the quiet ones a break for a change. We seem to be the ones who have no rights.

    • Wayne Knockel says on

      Or are you just getting a biased sample? Using a social gathering to gauge the effectiveness of a social gathering is not so good. Introverted people may not stay or if they do stay, may not say anything. They often will just leave as opposed to draw attention to themselves.

  • I was surprised at your first post on the matter Thom. I’m an extroverted people person, but I was stunned. When I asked people about it, the responses were mixed. I was surprised to hear some say they did not like it.

    Yet when we stopped it for about 3-4 months, out momentum stopped. We have gone back to the “welcome.” But …

    1. We have people greet on for a brief moment. No long handshake minutes. It’s maybe 20-30 seconds.

    2. I do a good platform welcome. We give a gift, Ect. Yet I also take 30 seconds to encourage people tell them they are important to God and the church. It authentic.

    3. Our Motto is “Where everyone belongs!” And I drive that into our people. When done right, the welcome symbolizes and is an example of the gospel. We do need to include the feelings of the introverted. Yet hospitality is important. It’s evangelistic.

    If a person went on a job and was paid to be welcoming and hospitable, it would get done. But that same person comes to a church and can’t be cordial? Welcoming? Hospitable?

    I get the point, but the “welcoming” of people on our campus is crucial to the evangelistic passion of the people.

    • Wayne Knockel says on

      Alan, I do appreciate your approach. And making the greet time smaller would help the introverts out there.

      Possibly a bit off topic, but I would want to challenge you and other clergy to think beyond “welcoming” to “inviting.” Yes, once someone is in the building, we should be welcoming, but I think if we can move the conversation toward be a inviting people, we begin to think of what the other person’s need are.

  • This is a fascinating topic. I don’t think there is any right or wrong here. The first thing I would say is that having visitors is a good problem. Many churches go weeks even months without visitors. Our church does utilize this practice of greeting each other after the first song and announcements. I agree that sometimes it feels forced. I am an introvert so it is a little uncomfortable but I get through it and actually feel better after afterwards.

    However our main strategy for reaching visitors is called the “minute man.” When a visitor registers at the welcome center immediately after the service or the following day a couple from the church visits the home. The visitors are given a bag with a letter of greeting from the pastor, a recent sermon CD, information about the church and its programs , some candy or snacks and a $10.00 gas card to entice them to come back. This outreach consistently receives positive feedback from our visitors and is one of our more effective ministries.

  • Pastor makes a hospital visit. Parishioner is thrilled that he thought enough of her to visit. She thanks him sincerely for the visit. He replies, “Well sister, it’s Tuesday. Tuesday is my normal hospital day. It is part of my job.” The parishioner now has a different perspective on the visit. CHANGE VENUES. Enter the average church. Usher hands u a bulletin. Smiles, maybe says something. You find a seat. No one around you speaks. Service starts. After a song or two the congregation is instructed to “greet those around you.” A few people smile and say good morning. The service continues. After the service, no one speaks to you. The visitor will perceive the welcome time as artificial and insincere. Because it WAS. if a church has to be told …. Weekly, from the pulpit … to welcome people, it is not a welcoming church. Allow-train-assign greeting to take place organically yet intentionally. Otherwise it is counterproductive.

  • #firstworldchurchproblems

  • Bill Harvey says on

    Thom: I believe some churches are overthinking this. I am an introvert but I am perfectly fine with the greet and meet time. I find #3 very amusing if not disconcerting. As an introvert I don’t want Chatty Kathy sitting with me the entire service. I don’t mind a 2 minute burst of friendliness with multiple handshakes but don’t make me endure an hour of Baptist waterboarding by a Francis Friendly or I want be back.

  • As a Pastor, I do not like the traditional stand and greet approach. Far too often it is difficult to reign people back into a worship mentality. I’ve also witnessed “fellowship gone bad” one too many times. Member A is upset that Member B (or heaven forbid guest A) has done something and take this time to share their grievance. Talk about destroying atmosphere! Friendliness is part of our MISSION and VISION! Together We WIN (Welcome, Involve, Nurture). We want everyone to feel WELCOME, for some that means being left alone to scout the territory. For others it means having 5 people greet them and shake their hands. Believe it or not, one guest shared that a church we were pastoring was “too friendly”. The bottom line is, everyone will judge being welcomed on different criteria. We make sure every guest gets our information and we have designated people in each section to make sure all are welcomed. Certainly, each church is different and what works here wouldn’t work in some of the churches mentioned above and vice versa. The beauty is, there isn’t a thing wrong with either type as long as we are pointing people to Jesus.

    Lastly, someone mentioned a gift. What we are doing for a “gift” is making a donation to a designated local charity. We are rotating local charities, but there are at least 3 to choose from so the money can be designated by the guest.

  • This is a non-issue in our church. Most people attending love this practice and lets everyone start to know each other and sets the atmosphere for friendly initial contact.

  • I actually tried unsuccessfully to limit “meet and greet” time at my church. The church let me know that they didn’t like this time to be rushed. Congregants get up out of their seats and walk around the room. While it’s true that many guests stay in their seats, they are made to feel welcomed and valued. It has become an important and integral part of our worship experience. I think the suggestions listed here are valid, but at least for us, they cannot be made at the expense of our greeting time.