Several of you have noticed that we’ve been experimenting a bit with our worship services. In the grand scheme of things the purpose is to help us remove distractions so we can worship God with sincerity and devotion as a community of faith.
In future letters we will look at other aspects of our worship time, but today I want to focus on the “stand and greet” time.
I think we all know the benefits of this part of our worship experience. It is a chance to let down some inhibitions and acknowledge that we are a church family. We are in community worshiping God. We are not simply a bunch of individual silos that worship God without the context of the others who are around us. Also, some people come to church for the first time, especially people from other countries, and wonder if they will be accepted here. This is a great time to show love and welcome and acceptance of everyone! It is intended to be a brief but joyful time of fellowship so we can worship God in community.
Unfortunately there is a dark side to this force.
Here are the negatives to the “stand and greet” time:
- We may not be as good as we think we are at making guests feel welcome. I make a concerted effort to greet as many as I can prior to worship, but I especially look for guests. Then, during the greeting time, I sometimes look back at the guests I have met and see them standing awkwardly alone while the rest of us greet our friends. That seriously bothers me. People say Crosswalk is a friendly church, and we are. But every church believes itself to be friendly. Have you ever been a part of a church that prides itself on aloofness? Often times in churches the people are friendly to each other, to those they know and like, but not guests. A LifeWay Research survey found that while three out of every four churchgoers say they have significant relationships with people at their church, they admit they don’t make an effort with new people. In fact, only one in every six even try! That is by our own admission! One of our beloved Crosswalkers commented that there was no greeting time last Sunday, and shared how during their first visit they were greeting warmly by someone and how blessed they were because of it. Wonderful. The “stand and greet” time can work! However, the person who greeted them so warmly was a staff person!
- Many guests are introverts and the greeting time is discomforting. Church consultant Thom Rainier did a study where one guest commented: “I would rather have a root canal than be subjected to a stand and greet time.” Actually, the same is true of some of our dear Crosswalkers. Some have told me they intentionally come late so they don’t have to participate in the “stand and greet” time. Also, God has blessed us with a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural church, and different people prefer different greeting styles. Not everyone is comfortable with “American style” greetings such as hugs.
- Many guests don’t like the lack of hygiene that takes place during this time. This was a part of the same survey noted above. One anonymous guest in that survey commented, “Look, I’m not a germaphobe, but that guy wiped his nose right before he shook my hand.” I don’t know if this is an issue at Crosswalk, but if it is in other churches we should be sensitive to it, especially during the cold and flu season.
Ironically, the time of the service dedicated to making guests feel welcome can and often is counterproductive. In an interesting study, the Technical Assistance Research Program study found that 96 percent of unhappy customers never complain about unfriendly treatment, but 90 percent of those unhappy customers will not return to the place where that unfriendliness was manifest. Further, each one of those unhappy customers will tell nine other people about the lack of friendliness and courteousness, and 13 percent will tell more than twenty other people. A later study by the same organization discovered that the number one reason individuals do not return to a particular establishment is an indifferent, unfriendly employee’s attitude.
These stats apply to churches as well. In fact, if the church blogospheres are correct, more and more churches are dropping the greeting time altogether.
So what are we to do about it? Do the negatives outweigh the benefits of the “stand and greet” time? Our pastoral staff wrestled with this, and of course we are open to change and to input from others. Here’s what we see is the best way to move forward, for now. We will continue to have the “stand and greet” time, but with the following provisions:
First, we need to prioritize greeting those around us whom we do not know. A simple, “Hi, welcome, God bless you!” is more than sufficient. Or at most, “Hi, my name is Paul, what’s your name? It’s a pleasure to meet you!” It will take a concerted effort to focus on people we don’t know rather on the ones we already know. We can greet our friends later.
Secondly, please help us to limit the greeting time to 15 seconds. This gives us a chance to stretch and say “hi” and should avoid lengthy awkward times of guests standing alone.
Of course, friendliness towards guests is more than a smile and a 15 second welcome. It has to do with an atmosphere of love, grace, acceptance, and a genuine joy that others are worshipping with us. Then, together as a family of believers and welcomed guests, we will be able to focus our prayers and praises on the living Lord.
Blessings in Jesus,