Leadership: Why Do Visitors Hate the Meet-and-Greet Time?

meet-and-greetThom Rainer is best-selling author and church growth consultant. Recently, he published some results of his research that shocked the evangelical world–it seems that church visitors hate — hate — the meet and greet.

In an admittedly unscientific Twitter poll, Rainer asked what a church does (or doesn’t do) that drives off first time visitors. By far, the number one answer was the meet and greet.

This response was my greatest surprise for two reasons. First, I was surprised how much guests are really uncomfortable during this time. Second, I was really surprised that it was the most frequent response.

So he followed up with a poll asking why. Here are the results —

  • Many guests are introverts.
  • Some guests perceive that the members are not sincere during the time of greeting.
  • Many guests don’t like the lack of hygiene that takes place during this time.
  • Many times the members only greet other members.
  • Both members and guests at some churches perceive the entire exercise is awkward.
  • In some churches, the people in the congregation are told to say something silly to one another.
  • Not only do some guests dread the stand and greet time, so do some members.

So I’ve not been a guest at a new church I was considering joining in a very, very long time. I’m sure I’ve lost all perspective. And I was astonished at this result.

So what do you all think? And if you don’t like the meet and greet — as a visitor — what might be done to make it better? Or should it be tossed entirely?

Do some churches do this well enough? Or do all churches fail at this?

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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25 Responses to Leadership: Why Do Visitors Hate the Meet-and-Greet Time?

  1. Toss out the meet and greet. Welcome people at the door and welcome them from the pulpit. Have people wearing bright yellow hats or something designated. From the pulpit tell visitors, “if you wish to speak with someone to get more details about anything, ask one of those people with the funny yellow hats.” Of course, the people with the funny yellow hats cannot spend their time talking with people whom they have know for 30 years and ignoring seeking visitors, another bad habit that drives away visitors.

  2. David Himes says:

    Well, since Dwayne chimed in, and we worship at the same place. I provide an alternate view. Now, admittedly, Dwayne is more of an introvert than I and I’m more an extrovert than he.

    But with that acknowledgement, let’s recognize that the “meet and greet” thing is good for some and less good for others.

    The wise approach, in my view, is not to get in any kind of rut with this thing. If you do the meet and greet every Sunday, many members will learn to ignore it and just chat with the folks they know near by.

    On the other hand, I look for faces I don’t know and sometimes end up introducing myself to people who’ve worshipped there for several years (oops). But there’s also no harm in that.

    I recall, at another congregation, we took a survey about what people liked and disliked about the worship music. The results was completely internally inconsistent. So, we announced we would try not to offend more the same 40% of the membership more than once a month.

    No matter what we do, someone won’t like it and someone will love it.

    Anyone who thinks they have a solution that will please everyone is mistaken!

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  4. Gary says:

    Having been a church leader for decades and then experiencing being the outsider visiting new churches at first simply to worship and later to look for a church home, I can completely understand the desire of many visitors to be anonymous. Anything that puts them in the spotlight will be counterproductive. What endeared me the first Sunday with the congregation where I am now a member was a lovely older lady who warmly greeted me after the service and seemed genuinely interested in me and my life. I kept visiting and a few weeks later she invited me to her small group which I found to be a wonderful fit. Quiet kindness and compassion are the key I believe to connecting with visitors- but only when they are ready for a connection. Many may want only an emotionally safe place to worship for quite some time before they are ready for the next step.

  5. Ray Downen says:

    At my church, members get the opportunity to greet others and no emphasis is put on greeting newcomers. I’ve heard no complaints. I observe that it is a good time to get to speak briefly with others that you want to talk with. As it’s done in my church, I hear no complaints or hear of no complaints ever. Visitors are not singled out, but many brief exchanges with others (some members are not friends of other members, but can become so by the exchanges) take place. Most of our fellowship is in Bible School classes, so it’s other class members we know best. For my church, it’s a good time. For us all, so far as I can tell.

  6. Ray Downen says:

    I surely agree with Dwayne that ignoring people you don’t know and spending time only with old friends is not a sensible use of the time. And David is surely right that some people do like and some people do NOT like that “interruption” in the program of sitting and watching.

  7. Dwight says:

    The meet and greet expereince is surely an subjective fare. I know people that hate to not be greeted when they walk in the door. I myself sometimes feel like being social and sometimes not when I visit a new place. We have to remember people are different at different times in different situations. We have members that love to slip and slip out and only associate among thier own family. Go figure. Church is about people with other people. Visitors are not driven away by being met or not, but if they perceive thier needs to be met in general. I don’t know of any one who has ever complained of people being too friendly, but I hae about people not being freindly at all.

  8. Royce Ogle says:

    The most consistent comment we get from visitors (we have a lot) is about how friendly the people are. We have several greeters, a visitors booth with info about the church and the area. And we to the traditional meet and greet which is very warm and friendly.

  9. brent says:

    When I was in full time worship ministry there were things I liked about the meet and greet and things I despised. In order for it not to become trite, we used to move it around to different places in the worship time, but that often disrupted the flow and broke the continuity of thought. But, if I ever just left it out completely I was sure to hear about it from someone. You can’t please everyone.

    At the church where I served we had an older lady that would always (and I mean always) put on hand lotion right before worship. In that service the meet and greet (we called it love feast) was at the very beginning consistently. She sat near the front so inevitably I would always end up shaking her hand, her slimy, freshly lotioned up hand. I grew to really despise it. Somewhat subconsciously I began to avoid her during this time (she also had a snarky attitude). She later accused me of being racist because I wouldn’t shake her hand during the love feast (she was black, I am white) so I began giving her a hug instead. You just can’t please some people, especially church people.

  10. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    My job requires me to move and travel frequently, so I am often “the visitor.” As such, I find that I greatly dislike the meet-and-greet. Personally, I would rather see the announcer or preacher or elder greet the visitors and then have a few handshakes following the service. For that reason, I intentionally arrive just-in-the-nick-of-time (or even a few minutes late) when visiting a new church. However, I would dislike being totally ignored by the members even more. This is a double-edged sword…risk awkwardness during a meet-and-greet or risk alienation or insult. My guidance is to greet visitors when they come in and depart and to get rid of the formal meet-and-greet time, which seems somewhat contrived anyway.

  11. Dwight says:

    I always thought that the meet and greet time was when people arrived and when people left. Perhaps if we did the “holy kiss” thing, then we wouldn’t have to worry about the dreaded hand shake. There is something to be said about friendly people. People who are appointed to meet aren’t usually very persuasive and just greet and then move on, but you can tell if a friendly person is there to meet you in thier demeanor and spirit. Some of the preachers I know give the lamest handshakes and don’t relate to people well as they are good public addressors. This all comes down to gifts. Encourage those that are gifted in being personal to do that and then encourage those that aren’t to the best of thier ability. I am poor at conversation, unless I just happen to click, but I can’t carry it or progress it very well. But I do like to meet new people.

  12. Chris says:

    Not sure about the meet and greet, since research indicates visitors hate it. Perhaps it’s the whole “find someone you don’t know and shake their hand,” or “visitors please remain seated so our regulars/members can greet you,” approach. I attended a church where rotating members would pay a quick visit to a newcomer’s home and deliver a fresh baked batch of cookies following their first visit. It was a quick way to say “welcome, glad you came, this a small way to show we care.”

    No pressure, no sales pitch. I heard someone once say – “six friends in six months or they’re out the door.” Not sure if this was based on research or experience, but a lot can be said for people feeling connected to others at some point. I think one of the goals of a small group is to accomplish this. However, I heard one Christian author say some folks don’t like small groups. Ha ha I guess there really is no pleasing everyone. My wife and I have felt most welcomed when were asked to join others we didn’t even really know for lunch after church. It made us feel welcomed, yes, I’m some what of an introvert, but even introverts need to feel connected.

  13. Steve Clifton says:

    I have never felt that “meet and greet” as a scheduled event was very effective, whether i was the one visiting or the one greeting a visitor. I now fellowship with a smaller group (i.e., about 100 sunday attendance) and it is the most welcoming church I have known. There is not a specific directive for this just guinuine interest by the members to include visitors in our fellwoship. For larger congregations, I would opt to make greeting a ministry for those who are so gifted and have them seek out visitors before and after assemblies to be made welcome.

  14. Larry Cheek says:

    I never once encountered a session of time during the convened assembly of any of the CoC churches I have attended being devoted to forcing the members to communicate with each other. While visiting other churches, I have discovered this is a normal exercise. My first thoughts as a visitor were, are these people normally so unfriendly that the leadership saw it necessary to devote an exercise within the assembly to force them to communicate with each other? You see, churches that I have attended spent much time prior to an after the actual assembly communicating with each other and with any strangers. In fact the after services communications sometimes were as lengthy as the services. Of course, all these churches used approximately the same amount of time with singing and praying as we did, so as you might guess the time loss was experienced through the sermon, the lessons that we should be learning to live out in our lives. It did not seem to occur to the preacher that his sermon was only a few minutes long, and possibly the audience might have appreciated that also. But, I have never seen the benefit to having a forced event of fellowship being more valuable than the time being used expounding more of God’s Word.
    While in this time of greeting, I did not feel the sincerity of the participators.

  15. Mark says:

    I have seen so much socializing before cofC services that I was reminded of a holiday party. I have seen the time of meet and greet at the beginning of the service be awkward in that too many people ask questions to try to find out who you are and if you are a member of the cofC. When one person figured out quickly that I was already baptized but just visiting, she promptly began treating me as an outcast. Also, between seat saving and seat swapping, I thought it was a game of a capella musical chairs. I always wanted to try an experiment of asking people to socialize after the service, not before and during. My experience in Anglican and Catholic churches is that silence before the service is quite beneficial allowing for private prayers or candle to be lit in memory of a departed loved one. Some people just gazed at the stained glass images which usually tell stories from the Bible. Given enough people, some will be in mourning or have issues weighing heavily on them. Those people won’t tell you what is weighing on them.

  16. Gary says:

    I’ve been surprised at times to find that visitors who were candid were looking for a quiet, worshipful atmosphere before the service began with most conversations and greetings preferred after the service. Churches of Christ have been eager to learn from Evangelicals but there is also a lot to learn from more liturgical churches where you really feel upon entering that you are in church and will encounter something of God. Admittedly, that doesn’t happen as easily in an a Capella setting (unless it is more like an Eastern Orthodox worship setting).

  17. Ted says:

    We use the greeting time as a good time to release the children to children’s church. Which is going to be disruptive anyway. As for visitors, any kind of forced interaction is uncomfortable.

  18. Why do visitors hate the “meet and greet? (Oh, and we do, believe you me.) First, it’s simply a ritual pressing of the flesh that members have to be told to do because most of us don’t want to either meet or greet anyone outside our circle. Why do we think a visitor is ignorant of this dynamic? It is as artificial as saccharine. We may not know what’s real in your church, but we know what is not. I, as a visitor, am invisible to everyone from the time I hit the door until the announcement to “turn to your neighbor and say the magic word”. Then, I become instantly visible to those around me for about twenty seconds, blinking into invisibility again as soon as the emcee moves on to the next part of the program. This has all the sincerity of a four-year-old who has been called by Mom to “Come in here right now and give your Aunt Doris a kiss!” Ugh.

    If we find our folks so personally lacking in hospitality and interest in others, perhaps we could ask for volunteers to take a Sunday and look out for visitors, greet one personally, and offer to actually share lunch with one. That way, the innocent visitor is not subjected to awkward and obligatory greetings, but is actually greeted by someone who WANTS to do so, and in a sincere and tangible way.

  19. Dwight says:

    Every time someone mentions a progam to meet the people I groan, not because we shouldn’t be meeting people, but because forcing people to do something makes it akward for everyone involved. I would rather there be fewer people who are sincere who greet me, then a whole lof of insincere people mixed in with the sincere people to choose from. Now this of course means that we need to foster sincerity and friendlyness, so that we have more friendly and sincere people.

  20. Alabama John says:

    Play to the visitors interest and its easier.

    Have some ethnic or various school T shirts with in reach of the greeters that speak: we are glad you are here among friends, whoever you are.

    For instance, if you are having some black visitors have them greeted by a person in a t-shirt that says “I can’t breathe” They will feel welcome.

  21. Gary says:

    Ok AJ I’ll probably regret this but I can’t resist. What t shirt message would you have for us gays?

  22. Larry Cheek says:

    I would guess that a T shirt with the message that “sex is not the most important object in my life” could be effective.

  23. Dwight says:

    A lot of meet and greeters try to sell the church, “Welcome to blah, blah, blah church.” Well they know where they are at, but they don’t know who they are dealing with. They don’t want to hear a prescripted format, but they want to hear someone who is interested in who they are. One of the things I hate most is the “visitor cards”, not because finding out information about them isn’t good, but most visitors are well visiting and if they live far away they will go back far away and if looking for a place to worship, they will decide not on a card, but on what they see and hear.

  24. Alabama John says:

    Gary,

    I would have on all t-shirts “Where sinners meet”. We all sin.

    In Alabama some would have to be red and some blue for Alabama and Auburn but in your case I would have some the color the gay folks wear along with their long earrings in our parades, PINK.

  25. Alabama John says:

    In many of the churches of Christ today meeting the visitors is not a problem as there are no visitors to greet.

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