Every organization has them. Even ones that pride themselves on how intentionally they try to avoid them.
When such areas are exposed, it’s a little embarrassing, but also very appreciated.
Our latest expose happened just last week. A friend of mine, Thom Rainer, wrote an article about an informal Twitter survey he conducted on what drove people away as first-time guests.
The number one answer – yes, the number one answer (prepare yourself) – was “stand-and-greet” times.
I kid you not. I’m still shaking my head.
Now granted, as Thom himself notes, it was not a very scientific survey.
Meck is all about first-time guests. And we do a pretty good job at it (over seventy percent of our growth comes from the previously unchurched).
And every week we have a “stand-and-greet” moment! (We actually have called them “seat-and-greet” times because it was done right before sitting down after a time of standing.)
We’ve done it for years. And to be honest, for as much innovation as we’ve continually, ruthlessly brought to the weekend services through careful cultural study in terms of missional effectiveness, this one has never been evaluated. It’s just seemed such a short and innocuous moment.
But hating it came up more frequently than unsafe/unclean children’s areas, a bad website, a bad or boring service…even unfriendly members!
(Which tells you that stand-and-greet has nothing to do with elevating a church’s perceived friendliness.)
Here were some of the reasons given for the intense dislike:
1. Many guests are introverts. "I would rather have a root canal than be subjected to a stand and greet time."
2. Some guests perceive the members are not sincere during the time of greeting. "In most of the churches it should be called a stand and fake it time. The members weren't friendly at all except for ninety seconds."
3. Many guests don't like the lack of hygiene that takes place during this time. "Look, I'm not a germaphobe, but that guy wiped his nose right before he shook my hand."
4. Many times the members only greet other members. "I went to one church where no one spoke to me the entire time of greeting. I could tell they were speaking to people they already knew."
5. Both members and guests at some churches perceive the entire exercise as awkward. "Nowhere except churches do we have times that are so awkward and artificial. If members are going to be friendly, they would be friendly at other times as well. They're not."
6. In some churches, the people in the congregation are told to say something silly to one another. "So the pastor told us to tell someone near us that they are good looking. I couldn't find anyone who fit that description, so I left and didn't go back."
7. Not only do some guests dread the stand and greet time, so do some members. "I visited the church and went through the ritual of standing and greeting, but many of the members looked just as uncomfortable as I was. We were all doing a required activity that none of us liked.”
Wait. It gets worse. At least for me.
I had never, ever heard even a whisper of discomfort with this part of our service. Not a single first-time guest response card over Meck’s twenty-two years of existence had ever conveyed a dislike for those few moments.
So I sent out a quick email to a relatively diverse eight or ten of our staff – just a little sample survey of my own – to get their thoughts on the matter.
Every one of them said they hated it.
They all said it was awkward, uncomfortable, and had nothing to do with what makes Meck have such a friendly atmosphere. One even wrote, “I am a complete extrovert and I still find [doing] this odd.”
Another wrote, “When I first attended Meck, despite the fact that I had a relationship with Christ, I did not want to approach anyone. I did not want the attention. I wanted to fly under the radar. I intentionally sat in the back, in the furthest corner from other people.”
And another added, “I completely agree with this article. It's awkward, artificial, and breaks the flow of the service. I've always dreaded this part of the service when I visited churches…it just seems to make new guests feel like outsiders.”
Why hadn’t this surfaced before?
Well, isn’t that what a “blind spot” is about? Something you don’t see? And if you don’t sense something, you don’t even think about asking about it.
That’s why a wide range of reading, continual learning, and an open, humble spirit is critical to the ongoing health and vitality of any enterprise.
So yes, it’s official.
No more “stand-and-greet” times at Meck.
Now I’m off to find the next area where I’ve been near-sighted.
I just hope it’s not with the message.
James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.