Thom Rainer (at thomrainer.com) did a column no pastor or church leader should miss. It is entitled Top Ten Ways Churches Drive Away First-time Guests. Nothing he reported from his Twitter survey was a surprise to us, but what is a surprise is how little most pastors and church leaders care to change their cherished practices. It’s as if they would rather hold on to their own preferences even if it means they won’t reach new people.
Most telling was his finding on the 'meet and greet' time. The meet and greet time is a point in the service where all the members are to turn and greet their neighbors. We call this a time out in worship, but many pastors and congregations justify it as being the 'passing of the peace of Christ', which does have ancient roots. Some churches even instruct those sitting in the pews to turn and say to one another 'the peace of Christ be with you' or a similar greeting. Even in churches where those instructions are given, though, we have never worshipped anywhere where all the members followed this instruction. Of course, many churches do not even give such an instruction. It is clearly a time during worship when everyone makes the rounds of their friends and says hello and whatever else occurs to them. Occasionally a few guests are included, but we've never been in a service where we weren't standing there alone, while everyone else was still chatting. As a visitor, it is awkward to say the least. Most pastors are aware that few new people like or even understand this practice. Yet it persists, and in many parts of the country, it is prevalent.
Why? Because the congregation likes it. Some would say it is their favorite part of the service. (They are usually the ones who feel the need to greet each person in attendance.) Try saying to them, "New people don't like this practice. Some even say they will not return to a congregation that does this." You will generally find that this makes no difference at all; they are totally against eliminating this from the service. Now why is that? Why is greeting your friends during worship (you could always do it afterwards, before, or even during the week) more important than making new people to the church feel comfortable? We are completely baffled as to why this practice continues. If our own enjoyment and comfort is more important to us than making the newcomer feel welcome, then it is no mystery why the congregation would decline. Next week, transforming the practice to embrace new people!