Nine out of ten guests do not like the stand-and-greet time in church services! What is that? Why are there such major differences between the preferences and opinions of the members and the preferences and opinions of the guests?

The guests addressed this issue in near unanimity. The stand-and-greet time is a tradition or ritual for the members, they told us. Members tend to greet other members they knew. Relationship patterns were obvious, and guests were on the outside looking in.

In some churches, however, the members did greet the guests. But, according to our survey, the greetings seemed artificial or contrived. “They greeted me because they were told to greet me,” one respondent told me. “They never made an effort to say a word to me until their pastor commanded them to move.”

Is it possible, then, to have a stand-and-greet time in the worship services that truly makes the guests feel welcome? My response is a tepid, “Maybe.” It would mean that your members would need clear and firm guidance on specifically reaching out to guests. They would need to be friendly to them before and after the service. The members must be aware that friendliness only during the stand-and-greet time does more harm than good.

In all fairness, the motives behind the stand-and-greet time are probably good. But too many churches are not considering how guests feel during this time. Friendliness, for them, cannot be limited to two minutes of handshakes, smiles, and contrived exuberance.

For those of you reading who would say, “Well, we don’t do the stand-and-greet time in our church, so we are off the hook,” I would say, “Well, maybe.” Perhaps you visit communion stations at your church during the service, and you float by guests like they are invisible. Or perhaps before and after the service, the culture of the church is to form discussion groups, boxing out folks who are new to your community. If that is the case, you share the same ailment.

Many Guests See an Abundance of Holy Huddles in Churches

The church I was consulting had an attendance of seven hundred. Part of my role was to get among the people as anonymously as possible before, during, and after the worship service. The experience was mostly good. The church had many positive and exciting things taking place.

But, like so many churches I have visited or consulted, they have a similar challenge, a challenge I call the “holy huddle.” The holy huddle takes place when members talk to other members they know without acknowledging the people they don’t know.

I get it. Members like to have fellowship and have conversations with friends they know. It’s healthy to see these connections in a church.

But let me continue the story of my visit to the church. I gave you the attendance so you could get the context of my experience. When I was in the parking lot, I noticed two men with vests talking to each other. They were obviously part of the welcome team and greeter ministry. One of them did wave at me, but they then continued their conversation with each other.

I had never counted “holy huddles” before, but this time my curiosity got the best of me. By the time I walked from the church parking lot to several different places in the church building, I counted twenty-seven holy huddles! Of a total attendance of seven hundred, of which about five hundred were adults, people formed twenty-seven huddles.

Here is the challenge. These holy huddles are not intrinsically bad. To the contrary, they demonstrate life, fellowship, and healthy relationships. You certainly don’t want a church where the members are not speaking to one another.

But, in twenty-six of the twenty-seven huddles, no one took time to acknowledge my presence. No one looked me in the eye. None of them stopped me to introduce themselves. The lone exception was the parking lot huddle, where one of the attendants waved to me. I think that was his job assignment.

Thom S. Rainer, Becoming a Welcoming Church (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2018).

I have just completed a series of lessons based on becoming a welcoming church. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year. Lessons correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines as well as the International Standard Series.