Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Connect

Ever been to one of those churches that has a special "meet and greet" time built into their service...a time for people to step out of their pew and spend a few moments meeting somebody new or catching up with an old friend? Ever wonder why church do this?

I've been to a bunch of churches that do this, and most of the time, it seems to me to be either a forced thing, an unnatural thing, a traditional thing, an interrupting thing, etc. I've seen churches that only have a few guests attending, and every member immediately moves toward those few guests, making them feel uncomfortable. I've seen churches that only have a few guests, and every member ignores them, which also makes them feel uncomfortable. I've seen churches that spend five minutes or more greeting each other, and it feels like it takes another 10 minutes to get back into the flow of worship.

Well, Nags Head Church does this, or, at least, something similar to this. The difference, I believe, between the "meet/greet time" in our church (we don't call it that...we actually don't call it anything) and in some other church is that we've decided we're only going to do it if it helps us fulfill our purpose in an effective and fun way.

Here's how we do it at NHC...

We always do it in the middle (usually instrumental bridge) of a high energy song near the beginning of our gatherings. I (or whomever is leading worship) say something like, "Find somebody you've never met before, shake their hand and welcome them to Nags Head Church." And, we always do it in every gathering.

On average, about 50% of people attending are guests, either from out of town (we're in a resort community) or from our community (we aim at reaching the OBX), and about half of those people have never been to our church before, which means that, nobody is more than a few seats from somebody they don't know.

We've discovered that, these few seconds of giving people an opportunity to reach out to others accomplishes a few things:

1) We call it "corporate" worship for a reason...by taking time during a song (especially if the song is a "horizontal" song) to focus on each other, we're reinforcing the idea that, while God may be our primary focus, we've gathered "together" to worship with each other. We need to be aware of each other (and the opportunity to serve) as we're worshipping God.

2) Because the band is still playing music (and we play fairly loud), people really can't do much more than say "hi", introduce themselves and shake a few hands (which is all that is needed to accomplish the next few points).

3) Because we do it in the middle of a song, it usually doesn't last for more than 20-30 seconds, and then, we pull them back in by finishing the song (singing).

4) It gives our members/regular attenders a chance to make a connection with a guest, which is always a great thing. Because everyone's doing it, and because it's so short and simple, nobody really feels awkward about it.

5) It pulls our guests into what we're doing. Many guests (especially first-timers and the "unchurched") are timid about jumping in and participating in the worship, yet, somehow, by taking those few seconds to allow people to move and speak and smile, it breaks the ice for many of them, and the participation and energy levels usually get bumped up a few notches.

I agree that, in most churches, this meet/greet thing totally detracts from worship. But, just like everything, if it has a purpose and fits in with the big picture strategy, it can add to the worship.

Here are a few things that I suggest if your church wants to have a purposeful meet/greet time (unless you really like to make people feel uncomfortable):

1) Don't open this time up by dividing your guests from your members by asking one or the other to stand or by asking your members to only find somebody that looks like a guest.

2) Don't spend much more than 30 seconds with this...unless it's for a very specific reason. You want to give people enough time to make that easy connection without getting to the awkward, "we've run out of things to talk about" stage. And, you don't want people to get so caught up in other conversational stuff that the focus moves away from whatever is going on in the service.

3) Have some kind of music going...whether it's the band or a CD. Silence is the killer of all things fun.

4) Develop a culture in which people come to church early and stay late to hang out and meet new people (see my last paragraph below). At NHC, we built a HUGE lobby, offer food and drinks, and are constantly telling people to come early and stay late, just to hang out. You wouldn't believe the difference it makes on every aspect of your church's life.

5) Find a strategic place to incorporate this time into the flow of your service. Even if it's perfect in every other way, if you do it at the wrong time, you'll have a big mess on your hands.

6) Imagine yourself as a guest who knew nobody, or better yet, as a guest who hadn't been to church in years...how would this time make you feel welcome and comfortable?

One more thought...if your church isn't being friendly to each other, and especially to guests, outside of this meet/greet time, it will totally come off as forced and fake. But, if your church has already shown to people, before they reach their seats, that you are a friendly and welcoming church, this meet/greet time can very strongly reinforce that perception, or you may not need it at all.

So, what does your church do? Are you so friendly that you don't need this time of connection during the service? Are you so cold that people would freak out if you tried to do this during a service?

Nate

19 comments:

Apple said...

I don't think I've ever been to a service where I found this uncomfortable, except when you find the one that hits the dreaded "this is taking too long and I have no one else to greet stage." At which point, I and several others stand in our places looking like fools while a couple of chatty "mature" members catch up on their Sunday lunch menu and grandkids.

I think the one thing in a church service that makes me MOST uncomfortable though, is when the leader makes you turn to the person beside you and say something. Like "Turn to the person next to you and tell them Jesus thinks they're worthy," you know what I mean. What if you turn to the right and that person has already turned to HIS right??? And really do we ever, as a society, feel comfortable sitting THAT closely to someone and speaking directly into their face??? Talk about making me squirm.

Now you'll probably do it at the next service just to see me panic. hahahaha

Rick Lawrenson said...

Just for you, Apple!

Jeff T. said...

i to 3 people you did not know when you waled in the door" thing. After 2 years of campaigning, I managed to get us to drop it altogether! It's pointless. Half the people don't do it, guests hate being told to shake hands with people, and even if you do it you're probably not going to speak to them again! I hated doing it and it felt so forced. I reckon it's one of those church things that we "just do" for tradition's sake. If we're really concerned with making our first-time guests feel comfortable, we won't force them to greet someone they don't know.

I also think it's actually UNwelcoming when you can't get in the auditorium of a church without having to shake someone's hand. It's a borderline invasion of personal space, especially to a guest who's already feeling self-conscious during their first visit to your church.

But if it works for your church, then more power to you!

MilePost13 said...

get out much, Jeff?

Kate's Mom said...

I'm Catholic. At our church we do it twice, once at the beginning of Mass and again at the sign of peace. We are a fairly young church community and I think it's great!

Jeff T. said...

That's just South Florida, baby! People are insanely antisocial around here. I always try to process things through the mind of an unbeliever and/or first-time church attender. Sometimes things that we feel totally comfortable with can be very awkward for someone who just wants to sit there and check things out. We try to convey a sense of welcome by having our greeters and congregation be friendly but in a more natural, unforced way. SoFlo is just a cold place (thanks to all the snowbirds from NY)!

Andy Lawrenson said...

Glad we are in the warm OBX, apparently our share of northerners hasn't affected us too much yet.

Here is uncomfortable and it happened to me:

"all our first time guests come on up front and line up here in front of the platform."

I did with one other.

Sister so and so came up and handed us each a pencil, no lie, a pencil for a welcome gift.

"now lets all sing!"
"There's a welcome here, there's a welcome here, there's a Christian welcome here. There's a welcome here, there's a welcome here, there's a Christian welcome here."

Me and the other guest stood there with our new number 2 pencil as the congregation stared at us with a weird smile on their faces and sang the song.

I don't know If I was more uncomfortable about coming up front or ticked that all I got was a cheap pencil.

It was a great learning experience for me.
1. Don't use visitor badges
2. Don't give large gift bags that scream to everyone "Look at me I'm a visitor! Vultures may now descend on me at this time."
3. Don't have guests stand while member sit or vice versa.
4. If you are going to give a gift please give something a little more heartfelt than a number 2 pencil.
5. Mr. Roger's type tunes needs to be sung only by Fred Rogers.

Kimberly said...

We have a team of greeters at the entry way at an info both who try to pick out visitors and give them a welcome packet, ask them to fill out a card, stay to meet the pastor, and they are given a coupon for a free drink at our starbucks-wanna-be-drink-bar (everything from fraps to cold drinks, snacks, etc) run by the youth group.

The pastor will usually ask visitors to raise their hands and be recognized. I know myself, I really did NOT want to do this my first time at the church. Actually, it took me 3 months of sundays to actually go in the door to the church. Me, not them. Once I was in, I definitely didn't want to raise my hand, no matter how much I was enjoying myself - I hate to be singled out, and I'm sure i'm not the only 1.

One very sweet lady came up and introduced herself right after worship when she realized that she didn't know me and I hadn't raised my hand - she was very stealth, never ratted me out, just very warm, welcoming and invited me back, but then she left me alone - never getting to that, good grief, please go away moment...

I've tried to emulate her approach when I've gone up to visitors since. But, I always hang back if I see them being descended upon. I'm not sure that I would have gone back again if that had happened to me the first time there!

Jeff T. said...

I any of you have the ability to shape and influence the techniques your church uses to welcome guests, I would HIGHLY recommend that you read the book "Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church" by Nelson Searcy.

It's the single best, most practical, and applicable book on first-time church visitors on the planet!

We read it as a staff and it's revolutionized our ability to make every guest feel welcome, get their contact information, and follow up with them - and none of it in a weird way.

If I can be bold for the sake of making unbelievers feel welcome in church - I genuinely believe that asking/making guests do ANYTHING that makes them stick out from the crowd is making them feel uncomfortable. Most of us just don't realize it because we're already comfortable.

You can order the book on Amazon, here:

http://www.amazon.com/Fusion-Turning-First-Time-Fully-Engaged-Members/dp/0830745319/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1217468629&sr=8-1

Here's to making our guests feel welcome!

jackie said...

We attend a fairly small church (about 200 attenders per week), and we do have a greeting time. It serves two purposes:

1. Get the kiddos to Sunday School (they worship with us during the music time and head out for responsive reading/prayer/sermon etc.)

2. It is to specifically welcome our visitors or to speak to another member/attender that you don't know very well. In our church it doesn't take a visitor badge/bag/etc. to notice who hasn't been there before. It's pretty obvious in a small church.

Things seem to flow very well during this time as it is after general announcements and before our pastor's specific announcements (which leads to someone introducing the hymn for that particular Sunday). Our pastor has really done a good job of making things flow smoothly.

I think visitors want to feel welcomed (just enough) when they attend church. Our pastor often writes about the best ways to approach visitors in our newsletters. They are usually the last ones in and the first ones out (which is understandable).

Overall, I think it is a good thing that can be handled in many different ways :)

Thom said...

Jeff T and Jackie show us what the real variable is here - culture - different stokes for diff… well, you know. Anywho, it can be hard to say what works for one person will work for all. When I go to a new church for the first time (as i have been doing here lately) I like the greeter at the door. That’s fun. I don’t like the stop-service-to-recognize-newbies thing 'cause I don’t want to be the reason we get out of the worship flow. I don’t mind the meet and greet time except there never seems to be enough time carry a conversation but too much time to just say hi (I like the say hi to a person you don’t know thing - of course in a churches will fewer new persons you could just say hi to any ol'body just as well). Its funny, but I like to be engaged - not hunted down - just engaged, but that’s just me. I know very well the type that Jeff T mentions. Basically wants to be a fly on the wall, don’t try to get to know me kinda thing. It’s not so much that way where I am (in the sticks). I could see that type, though, in OBX though being so diverse a group of people.

Anyway, as far as the meet and greet time, it seems to me that for the purpose that it really serves (to affect the atmosphere of worship) it should be specific (say hi to someone), be brief (no more than 30 seconds), and should be eliminated if it’s not working. The real connection time is, certainly before and after services, but mostly in small groups and on group outings (esp. in serving). That is where the relationships are built and real connection is made. [IMO]
~peace

MilePost13 said...

Good discussion.

The bottom line is, every church can't cater to ever person. Some people (guests) want that interaction, and others don't. No matter what you do at your church...music, preaching, building architecture...you're going to make somebody unhappy. But, ultimately, it's their choice to be that way. As long as you're being the church God has called you to be, reaching the people God has called you to reach, you can't get bogged down with the few who don't like you.

A book I'd recommend is "First Impressions: Creating Wow Experiences in Your Church"...I don't agree with everything, but it helps you see your church from a different perspective (a link to this book can be found on my sidebar).

Kimberly said...

I'm definitely going to check out both of these books. I've been asked to get involved with the meet and greet team; so, I want to make sure I've got a good base of the do's and dont's before I start "hi, howya doin" everyone.

We have a space, between services, meant to talk with each other. That also can get a bit cumbersome. This is 1 huggy-feely group of people. I can see how some folks would end up feeling mauled by the time they left the building. I like it - I live alone, have no husband, no children of my own living in my house day to day, and see my parents once a week - so BRING ON THE HUGS! that's 1 of the best parts of Sunday for me - actually seeing other living people and all the hugs they give -- but I can also see how for someone else in a different mind set, they might end up feeling completely run over by a truck at the end of it!

There have been some awkward times in this fellowship period because the conversation gets a little too personal for the environment, but I've usually just asked the person if I could call them later or if we could go into another room where they won't be overheard. I think sometimes folks get so eager to tell what's happening with them, they forget that everyone passing by can hear what they are saying. Then, later, when it's all over creation, they wonder how it got "out". So, I try to avoid this with anyone talking with me about something a bit personal so they don't think or decide that I walked around blabbing their business all over the place.

I agree with Thom - it is in the smaller groups/outings for service where the real meat of relationships is formed in a church family though. It can be had to convince people to get involved in ministries, but if they do, they never regret it - some of the best friends/support systems you can ever make!

Jeff T. said...

This is a GREAT conversation - it's a small thing that's probably a bigger than than most of us realize! I'm a firm believer that we can't take the approach of "I like the greeting time" because we're not really the point! The first-time guest who's never been to your church should be the focus and I think, wherever our churches are, we should go out of our way to make them feel welcome and comfortable.

Thom said...

so true Jeff! I've had the pleasure of sitting at the round table with church elders to discuss growth (they wanted the church to grow - in numbers). I layed all kinds of things that i have learned over the years all of which involved some change on their part. Needless to say, they didnt want to play ball, and 2 years later, their numbers have fallen. The phrases I heard the most, "I dont like" and "I shouldnt have to." My closing remarks (of sorts) was, "Its not about you." Anyway, sorry if that a bit off topic, but it does go with any decision about service structure or methods (even mingle time). Just remember, for those of you mature in your relationship with Christ and in roles to make descions regarding reaching others, it's not about you.

Thom said...

andy... that is like woah. Ive never experienced anything quite like that. Except maybe the greeters at the very first baptist church i joined (15 yrs old). They had racks of coats (all sizes) and ties on one side of the foyer and dresses (all sizes) on the other. That way if you "forgot" to wear your Sunday best, they were there to help you out BEFORE you entered the sancutary. They would shake your hand, and lead you the coat rack with a smile. And yes, i got to wear my first complimentaty (to be returned at the end of service) coat and tie! We (my then girlfriend now wife and I) joined a month later and I was baptized there soon after.

Ryan Egan said...

Nate - this post is great and the discussion looks fantastic as well - I just discovered your blog through the worship community and am loving the few posts I read. I hope to jump into this discussion soon as well. Take care!

Rick Lawrenson said...

Thom,
Whoa, I never experienced anything like that in all the Baptist churches I've been part of over the years.

And I was in some pretty straight-laced ones. But never one that required a coat and tie!

Thom said...

Rick,
Dont feel bad, you're not missing anything. BTW, I dont recommend trying this practice at anyones church. All said and done, it just doesnt translate well. :)