Last week I wrote about the disdain most visitors express for the greeting time inside of churches. This discussion is taking place many different places on the web, and many pastors defend it as vigorously as those in the pew. I still think of it as a 'small church' activity at best, and a detriment to worship and growth at worst. However, I do think there is a way to use the idea without offending or detracting from worship. Here's what we substituted for the greeting time.
Every Sunday we would formulate a question that connected to the worship service that day. The question was printed in the bulletin or on the screen, in addition to being asked in worship. For example, one Easter Sunday I referenced the Easter Parade in the opening to my sermon, so the opening question was "Have you ever attended an Easter Parade?" On Sundays with special emphasis (Mother's/Father's Day, Boy Scout Sunday, All Saints, etc.) the question usually dealt with some aspect of that Sunday's emphasis, for example, "Were you ever a participant in a scouting program?" Usually the question was tied to subject matter in the sermon. One Easter we preached on the daring nature of the gospel. The opening question was "When was the last time you threw caution to the wind and took a risk?" Another Sunday we asked "Are you a risk taker or do you prefer to play it safe?" On a Sunday we preached on the subject of immigration, the question was "Do you know what country your grandparents or ancestors came from?" When we had a series on World Religions and then again on Christianity's Family Tree, the question of the day was connected to whatever group was the focus. The question might be as simple as "Who do you know that is ... (Catholic, Baptist, Mormon, Jewish, etc.) or "Share what you know about" the religion in question.
This substitute does require the worship leader to invest some thought in how people will connect to the service that day. Before asking the question, we would say something like "The gospel pushes us to take risks, and that can be scary. The last risky action I took was ..." and then shared something of our own. The worship leader must set the tone for the answer by providing an answer of their own. We were also careful not to ask a question that was too deep, too hard, or too revealing. We tried not to ask a question that would make someone cry, "Have you lost someone this year?" We strove to fashion questions that anyone of any age could answer. After we asked the question, we gave this instruction: Turn to someone sitting near you and share your answers together.
This pattern accomplished things. 1. People still got to greet those near them. 2. Visitors, children and long time members were all on the same footing. 3. As worship leaders, we carefully monitored the amount of time allowed for the activity (2-3 minutes tops) to avoid the dreaded act of standing alone while everyone else was visiting. 4. Focused worship participants on the theme of worship that day, and how they personally connected to the theme. 5. Gave a topic for our Greeting Team to engage with visitors beyond Good Morning or Hello.
I think what people value about the personal greeting is the informality of the action, and their own ability to participate during worship. This accomplishes both of these needs, but keeps us focused on worship and cuts down on the roaming through the pews that sometimes goes on. What have you done that has worked as an alternative?