We’ve definitely moved into fall with the change in the weather, and it’s great to feel the chill in the air. The leaves are turning and falling, and it’s clear that we are moving into a new season. I’d like to think we are entering into a new season of ministry here at City Road, and so it was exciting to see that we had right at 200 folks in worship this past Sunday. Af course it was All Saints and we had several special visitors, but we are seeing some new regular faces as well and it’s good to know that folks are finding God’s presence through what we do on Sunday mornings.
This past weekend I shared on Facebook an article that’s been making the rounds titled “The Top Ten Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests“. What’s been the most interesting fact in that article was that the number one reason that first-time visitors don’t come back is due to what we would perceive as our most welcoming and friendly element in worship: the meeting and greeting time.
The meet and greet is an adaptation of the traditional Passing of the Peace, a ancient worship practice which the early Christians used as a means of making connection with one another in a tangible way. Over time, we’ve made that less formal into the meet and greet time we have today. The goal is not a bad one — to offer an opportunity for the community to personally connect with one another and to reach out to the newcomers in our midst. But as we are learning, there are often unintended consequences of this time in spite of our best intentions.
Now, before you panic, the preacher isn’t suggesting that we are ending the meet and greet time anytime soon. It is indeed part of our life together, and is not easily cast aside — although some experts would suggest that we should do so in favor of a more informal greeting and welcome practice before and after the worship service. However, we may need to take a moment to think more intentionally about how this is experienced and if we are doing more harm than good in being hospitable to our guests.
I won’t go into the reasons that this time is difficult for many, but encourage you to check out this article to learn about what one writer has learned. As we think about his learnings, the second reason that folks don’t like it — the belief that church members are not sincere in their greetings — may be the most important. You see welcome and hospitality are not simply about superficial hellos and greetings. People are used to those greetings from the clerk at the Taco Bell or the car salesman trolling to make a deal. What folks want and need are others who are interesting in their lives — where they live, what makes them tick, what are their struggles, and where do they (or don’t they) experience the presence of God. That kind of engagement can’t happen in the span of a hymn verse. That kind of connection only comes when we are gathered around the table, drinking a glass of tea and investing our time into someone else’s live — as they invest their time into us.
If I could snap my fingers and develop a ministry of hospitality that is more effective than the meet and greet it would be to use that time for folks to setup lunch dates after worship has ended. What would be great is instead of saying “Hello, glad you are here…” we would say, “Hello, can I take you to lunch…” You see, the scriptures don’t tell us that Christ is revealed in the handshake. No, Christ shows up in the breaking of bread — something that happens when we are gathered around the table, eating and talking together.
I don’t have any great answers to whether we should or shouldn’t have a meet and greet time — there are arguments to be made both ways. But I am certain that God is calling us to live out a ministry of welcome and inclusion, in which all are invited to join us on the road in our journey of faith.
Your thought? Feel free to leave a comment here, or to join the conversation at: https://www.facebook.com/jay.voorhees/posts/10152356349206400:0