Visiting Churches

Church Greeting

Greeting Well or Not at All

There are three opportunities for a church to interact with visitors: before, during, and after the service. Some churches failed at each occasion and only a few excelled at all three—though every church should.

Pre-Church Greeting

First, greeting people before the service is critical, as it’s the first impression a church makes on a visitor. Everyone should be a greeter.

This is in addition to the official greeters stationed by the front door, the minister and staff, and the ushers—for those churches that still use them.

Talking with friends before the service may be comfortable, but it’s not greeting, and it certainly isn’t welcoming to visitors.

Though a few churches treat their pre-service time with stoic reverence, you can always greet visitors before they enter the sanctuary.

At the friendlier churches, people even approach visitors already seated. But at too many churches, we didn’t interact with anyone before the service, leaving us isolated and alone. This is no way to form community.

Next, consider interaction during the service. When this occurs, it’s an announced time of greeting. This can range from awkward to invigorating. It can last too long, be too short, or feel exactly right.

The Art of Mid-Service Greeting

There’s an art to doing it well, but when done poorly, churches might be better off skipping it. Here are my suggestions for a successful mid-service greeting:

  • Make eye contact.
  • Smile.
  • A handshake is acceptable, but not everyone appreciates a hug—and to “greet one another with a holy kiss” is creepy. Though welcoming others with a holy kiss is biblical (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26), don’t subject visitors to this degree of intimacy.
  • Share your name and repeat theirs if they give it.
  • Don’t be in a rush to move to the next person.
  • Focus on visitors first and friends only if time allows.

When the greeting time is a rote interaction performed with disingenuous intent, either overhaul it or omit it.

Although there were exceptions, our general conclusion was that traditional churches struggled with greeting time, while charismatic churches excelled at it. Evangelical churches filled the continuum between.

One church redefined greeting time, making it more akin to an intermission, where people could roam around, get more coffee, or grab another donut, while having extended interactions.

This church made it work well, but not every congregation could pull this off. And although we didn’t see it on our journey, I’ve been to churches that provided time during the service for group discussion with those sitting near you.

Another way to extend hospitality during church is helping a visitor navigate the service—especially at liturgical services.

Give them your hymnal when they grab the wrong one, share your bulletin to read the liturgy, or let them follow along in your Bible. You can do this without saying a word.

As a final thought, if the official greeting time is the first time someone addresses a visitor, something’s wrong.

After Church Greeting

When the first greeting occurs after the service, it seems too late to try, but it’s better than not at all. Most churches did after-church hospitality reasonably well, but a few skipped this opportunity too.

Sometimes there was a meal or snacks; food fosters connection. Other times it was just hanging out afterward, getting to know one another, making connections, and sharing our faith journeys.

All too often, one person made the difference between us feeling welcomed or ignored, singlehandedly forming our key perceptions of the church, with preaching and worship being secondary.

While applauding the efforts of that one person, the lack of effort from the rest of the congregation is sobering.

Granted, some people are naturally outgoing with a knack for hospitality, but everyone can smile and say “Hi.”

[Check out the discussion questions for this post.]

My wife and I visited a different Christian Church every Sunday for a year. This is our story. Get your copy of 52 Churches today, available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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