I may not know you, but I think one thing is safe to say: You do not have as much natural revulsion as I do toward a stand and greet time during a church service. You don’t feel a greater measure of inward terror when you hear a service leader command, “Stand up and greet a few of the people around you.” I am naturally shy, introverted and easily intimidated, and can always feel the fear rising when I hear those words. And yet I am involved in planning our church’s services and often advocate for a stand and greet time. Let me tell you why I believe in this time of greeting one another, even though it is completely contrary to my natural desires.
Why are you part of a church community? Why are you a member of a church? Why do you go to the public gatherings of the church on Sunday morning? Broadly speaking, there can be two reasons: You go for the good of yourself, or you go for the good of others. There is a world of difference between the two.
When I go to church for the good of me, I am free to be shy and introverted, free to keep to myself, and free to be consistent with who and what I naturally am. I can hide in a corner or bury myself in a book. I can hope that others will come to me and pay attention to me. I can come for the service, sing some songs, hear a sermon and slip out seconds after the final amen. I can do whatever is good and comfortable for me. I can hate that stand and greet time because of how it makes me feel, because of how it forces me shake hands with people who have colds, because of how it prompts me to judge others as less sincere than myself.
When I go to church for the good of others, I have no right to be shy and introverted, and no right to keep to myself. I have to die to myself and so much of who and what I naturally am. I can’t hide in a corner or bury myself in a book, but I need to seek out others and pay attention to them. I can come for the service, sing some songs, hear a sermon and enjoy it all. But when I hear that final amen, I am right back to seeking out others and looking for ways to serve them.
I believe in the second option, and I try to practice it. When I walk into Grace Fellowship Church eager to do good for others, I am guarding myself against those ways that my natural introversion leads me to sin—especially the sin of selfishness. One of these ways is running away from other people, rather than loving and greeting them. That selfishness can even manifest itself in grumbling and complaining about that time of forced fellowship when we all stand and greet each other.
The stand and greet time still terrifies me if I allow it to, but I have learned to embrace it as another opportunity to serve others. I can meet people I haven’t met. I can find a visitor I didn’t catch on the way in and greet him. I can talk to people I don’t otherwise tend to talk to. We sometimes do “Name Amnesty Sundays” where we tell everyone they are free to say, without embarrassment, “I know you’ve been here for a while, but we still haven’t met,” or, “I know I’ve met you before but I just can’t remember your name.” This time pushes me outside of myself and forces me to do something uncomfortable but good. I believe in it.
I just plain need to get over myself, because that’s what the Christian life is all about.
Here’s what I’ve come to see: My natural desires and fears are completely irrelevant when it comes to what is right and wrong, and what is wise and unwise. If this time of greeting is an opportunity to serve others, I need to learn to love it. I just plain need to get over myself, because that’s what the Christian life is all about.
Let me close with a few considerations for a good and meaningful stand and greet time.
1. Church is for Christians. Though unbelievers should be welcome to attend, the service is primarily for the growth and refreshment of believers. If unbelievers do not like the stand and greet time, that may be a consideration, but it should not be a major consideration. What we do in church we do primarily for the good and growth of those who profess faith in Christ. Make the greeting time something that benefits Christians.
2. Make it meaningful. Every element in a worship service should be carefully planned to ensure that it has a purpose. A stand and greet time can be meaningful, but only if the leaders know why it exists and what it means to accomplish. Don’t do it if it is merely habitual and serves no clear purpose within the flow of your service. Begin it with clear instructions and close it with a clear transition to the next element of the service.
3. Don’t make it dumb. Many people hate the stand and greet time because they are forced to do or say something silly. Don’t make people say a particular phrase or repeat a little mantra to one another. Don’t force people to exchange hugs. Just allow people to naturally greet others in a way that is comfortable to them. Allow them to be sincere, not forced.
4. Christians love. The New Testament has a lot to say about greeting one another and expressing love to one another, which means there are good, biblical reasons to include greeting as an element of a service. The church is probably the only place you will ever be told, “Stand and greet one another.” You will attend many events in the course of your life where you will be alone together, just one person in a big and impersonal crowd. By having people stand and greet one another during a church service, we are proclaiming that there is something different about this crowd and about this gathering. That alone makes it valuable and powerfully countercultural.
So do it! Do it well, do it wisely and do it out of love for others.
(This article was inspired by Thom Rainer’s recent articles on the subject.)