Monday, September 15, 2008

felt like fall

Yesterday felt like the fall, didn't it? Lots of new and returning college students, a crowded Courtyard and a buzz in the air. We wrapped up our Galatians series with message #24. What a great study. It was a communion Sunday, which also means a name tag Sunday, which reminded me of a recent dear Abby post that appeared in the Tribune last week.

Betty Cunningham handed this to me on Sunday. But Robbin Mote got it to me first and also shared her very honest thoughts on her blog. Here it is . . .

DEAR ABBY: I am writing about a change I have seen in church. I accept the loud guitar music and informal settings, although I do miss the traditional hymns and formal altars.What I cannot get used to is the forced "friendly" greeting and handshaking. I attend church to meditate and worship with my family. I do not go to shake hands with strangers and give them a greeting dictated by a pastor.
I like people. I am naturally caring, outgoing and friendly. However, I believe that a greeting or handshake should come from my own heart. I have mentioned this to friends and family from all faiths, ages and walks of life. None of them like this scheduled "greeting" either. Many say they head for the restroom at that time, turn their backs or just shake hands with the people they came with, come to church late to avoid it, or don't come at all. Others feel the practice is unsanitary. I suggest that church leaders take an anonymous poll and ask how many in their congregations agree with me. What do you think, Abby? -- MINISTER'S DAUGHTER, CAYUCOS, CALIF.

DEAR DAUGHTER: Thank you for asking my opinion. Here it is: Something is wrong in our fragmented society if, for one moment in a house of God, people cannot find it in their hearts to reach out and make sure that everyone feels included and welcome. And for those who fear it is unsanitary -- bring small bottles of hand sanitizer.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

It's a crack-up that it's from a minister's daughter in Cayucos. Do you feel like this about the greeting time at Grace? I loved Abby's straight-up response. Obviously, the greeting time in church is not the "end-all, be-all," but it's intended to be a small way to break the ice and extend a welcome. Personally, I need to be reminded that I have to come to worship with others, not alone. We together are part of the "communion of saints" throughout the ages, brothers and sisters in Christ, the family of God. Seems to me, we've got to do all we can to keep embracing and experiencing that.

I think those of us who have been around for awhile forget what it's like to walk into an unfamiliar church for the first time. It can be a very uncomfortable experience. A smile, a welcome, a good morning, the touch of a handshake can go a long way in putting someone at ease. Don't underestimate the power of that time.



Irish Girl said...

I saw this on Robbin's blog too... and I did laugh out loud that it was someone from Cayucous! What a small world!
But, as a person who is now looking for a new church, and having such a high standard to live up to (Grace SLO), I can say that the greet time is necessary. Even if it is a small amount of time, you can tell a lot in those few minutes. The church I have been to the past two weeks has a greet time like we do back there, but people barely shake your hand, and they don't even say their name. It's almost like they know it is such a huge church that they won't see you again, so they don't need to! Needless to say, I'm pretty sure that won't be my home church! Luckily there are a lot of churches out here!
So keep that greet time, say your name and welcome those faces you don't know!
Miss you all!

Erica said...

My pastor has us greet those around us every Sunday. Although it's not always the most "comfortable" thing to do, I have met some great people this way and I have heard many visitors say that this is the only way they actually meet those who regularly attend the church. It's a great opportunity to step out of our comfort zone and love those who might be hurting and searching for someone who can show them the love of Christ.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I have to agree with Minister's Daughter. I have a hard time doing any "fellowshiping" with a brief handshake, I find it awkward. I much rather leaning over and talking to the people around me after the service and have often ended up going to lunch after a few moments of conversation. I always felt like it was disruptive to have us stop right in the middle of a time we are supposed to be using to focus our attention on the Lord - to swap names with the people around us. It's not long enough to have a real conversation but too short to avoid feeling awkward when your neighbors have their backs to you and you're stuck in the middle of a row. I don't mean this to be at all offensive, I've always felt this way and out of obedience to the leadership of whatever church I've attended I've usually tried my best. I'm actually relieved that I'm not the only person that feels this way! Maybe it's less of a sin issue than I was afraid it was. (BTW I've been attending church 20 plus years)

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't have had the pleasure of meeting Kendall and Mike Mattina's folks last Sunday if it weren't for name tags and handshakes! I've actually had to refrain from greeting folks when I'm onstage leading worship because I get caught up in conversations and miss the beginning of the next set of songs. Maybe I'll keep it to the first few rows next time...

Brian Wong said...

I agree with Anonymous and the Minister's Daughter. Granted, I'm no longer at Grace, but I feel like the time is superficial and forced. It's a mandatory thing I have to do as part of going to church. It's just another one of the rituals. My church is so big that it's true I've never shaken hands with the same people twice, and I've never remembered anyone's name.

I'd rather wait until service was over, and I was standing in the foyer (or the courtyard at Grace) to meet and greet new people. That way, at least I would have sufficient time to go learn their name, what they do, how they decided to come to my church that morning, etc.

Just my $0.02

Tim said...

Not surprisingly, we're seeing varying perspectives on this issue. Perhaps our perspectives run along personality lines.

For those of you who think the greeting time is forced, do you think saying "greet someone around you on the way out this morning" after the service will actually work? (We try to do both!)

Maybe its just me, but I think every time we gather again, there's an awkwardness, maybe its because worship itself is not natural and so countercultural. I think we're all a bit uncomfortable and need to settle in and embrace one another again. If I feel this way most of the time and I'm the pastor, I can't imagine what other folks feel like.

What about welcome team folks greeting at the door? Or my greeting folks at the door after the service? I'm guessing these feels forced to some as well?

I guess I'm of the conviction that we all, if left to our own devices, would isolate and mostly keep to ourselves. I believe we need to be pushed out and push ourselves out of our own comfort zones. Don't all those Scriptural "one anothers" call us to it?

Anna said...

It seems like those who are outgoing are going to be fine with doing a quick hello and those that are uncomfortable with that would not be uncomfortable with going up to someone on their own accord out of nowhere. That's my observance...I could be VERY wrong.

I don't think that the greet time though is MEANT to be an outreach time. I think the time after the service is over is the outreach time. The "mandatory" greet time is meant to start a converstion that you should finish after church is over. I find it much easier to greet someone that I was forced to say hi to and then start up a real convo with them afterwards. It's like the door was opened and it's less awkward to say, "Oh, so how long have you been coming to church...yada yada." We're picking up where we left off.

It's way harder to me to start up a convo when I haven't greeted them first. It seems more random and awkard to be like, "Hi, I'm Anna." out of nowhere.

Now sure if that made an ounce of sense. :-)

andy gibson said...

I was thinking the EXACT same thing as you Tim before I read your comment. This is a function of Myers-Brigg, not anything the church is or isn't doing. So the church isn't doing anything wrong and will probably never be able to change it.

With that said, the bible does push us out of our comfort zones in multiple other issues, so why not this one. There are times that I'm not in the mood for it either, but you know what, I force myself to get over it and greet others, because if I let my dislike of it at the moment show, it might mean the person I greet never comes back to grace, or even worse, shy's away from Christianity. All because I was grumpy or had attitude because I didn't like shaking hands and asking if people were having a nice day for 30 seconds. That just doesn't make sense as Christians. On the flip side, and I might get blasted for saying this, but I think there is an element of selfishness as well; not wanting to be pulled from our comfort zone or "inconvenienced" with greeting others.

Kate said...

ok, i'm sorry, and i don't mean to be rude, but i think that this girl is crazy. people really have problems saying hi to fellow human beings?! who cares who told you to do so...gosh darn it... be kind! man, its sad to think that just because someone told her to do something she's not going to. its like if someone were to ask her to clean up after some function she wouldn't do it because her "heart wasn't there first". wow.
i don't really care when we do it in our sunday services, but i always think that greeting others with a smile or a handshake or a sweet comment or whatever should be something we do whether we feel like it or not. sometimes we need to get over ourselves and think of others as more important. who cares if you get sick doing it too... geeze, getting sick is part of life!
what about greeting people you come in contact with store, downtown, restaurant, department store, bank, park, etc... shouldn't we be showing the joy that Christ has given us whether we feel like it or not?
plus, sometimes, i think that when we show kindness even when we don't feel like it, it can change our hearts. it can get us to stop thinking of our own issues and of others and how we can bless them.

okay, whatever, you can see this got me all riled up... i guess i just never thought there were really people out there who thought like this.

Tim Weaver said...

I think it is great to have at least met the people who you are worshiping with. I, too, have met some wonderful people that I otherwise would not have met. I have followed-up with people after the service and it is quite natural to do so because you have already touched base once. On the flip side, it kind of interrupts the flow of things and takes your focus away from the Lord. Sometimes it annoys me, but I'm usually having attitude problems at those times and I need it to get me out of my funk.

I think that it is a needed thing because we have become so isolated that many (possibly even most) people function just fine without saying a word to the people that they are with. It is hard to be loving our brethren and building one another up in the faith when we don't even know who they are.

I say, keep it. We need it. (I need it.)

Brian Wong said...

To a certain extent, I can buy Andy's claim that it's "a function of Myers-Brigg [sic]". Obviously, there are extroverts and introverts. Generally, the extroverts want to meet and greet everyone, while the introverts would rather not, or at least they'd prefer to just talk to one or two people, e.g., me.

But I guess that brings me to a question, Pastor Tim: What is the purpose of "meet and greet" time? Is it to say hello to everyone around you? Is it to impart a genuine feel of openness and a welcoming atmosphere? Is it simply "intended to be a small way to break the ice and extend a welcome" as you mentioned in the original post?

I know you've said before that everything during the service is intentional and never by accident. What's your reasoning?

Anonymous said...

As a person who is not outgoing, I don't think it is too much to ask for people to greet those around you. For the first time in my church life, I am still on the porch looking in. A friendly welcome at the door or "Hello" at greeting time can sometimes be all I need to go home and feel like I was where I should be. My husband and I still find humor in the fact that for three weeks in a row, the same lady came up to greet me and asked my name; when she found out that I shared her same name, she said, "I don't meet too many people with my same name, I should remember you." It sure helped me to remember her name, but at least she was trying.

Anyway, all of this to say, stick with the greeting time. It won't hurt anyone, and may be a blessing to many!

Peek Family ~ A peek into this Life that God has given us..~ said...

It just sounds so selfish to me that she had to even ask advice on something like that. Can't we just check ourselves at the door and go in to worship God with others not worrying about what we want or how our church experience is going to be on that day? Seems like a matter of the heart to me. In the past I have known people who have left churchs because they were not pampered enough during there visits, how sad is that...I pray Lord that I never forget what a privilege and blessing it is to be able to attend church in a free country.

Nate Maas said...

I’m of two minds on this one. I think there are positive and negative aspects to both sides of this issue. To some degree I feel bad even posting since I don’t have a ready answer, but I want to share my thoughts so that someone who has more wisdom than I can perhaps apply this knowledge to figuring out what would be good practice for our church.

Most people would agree that making an effort to welcome people is a good thing. It’s over the method of greeting that I think there remain differences of opinion. My thoughts on this matter come from my experiences at other churches. One of the most welcoming churches I ever visited was in the Bay Area. It was held in a warehouse and people sat on folding chairs. As you entered, they handed everyone a Sharpie and a nametag. Welcoming new people seemed to be very important to this group as before the service, it seemed they all came up and talked with me. They even had a greeting time, where I was introduced to anyone I hadn’t yet met. I felt very connected to this group of people until after service when they dropped their church routines. They quickly broke up into their little cliques, talked loudly about the movies they wanted to see this week and the new things they wanted to purchase and waved quick goodbyes to me from afar. After I removed my nametag, no one called me by my name, but I got a round of “later dude” and “see you man.” It seemed to me that Jesus was just another addition to their normally happy, rich, and apparently carefree lives.

The least welcoming church I think I’ve attended was rather liturgical church outside Chicago. It was held in a large stone building and radiated cold through the stone floor. There was no one to greet me at the door, just a stack of programs. I was unfamiliar with each of the routines (e.g., when to stand, when to sit, when to respond “thanks be to God”). The sermon was rather scripted and uninspiring. The sanctuary was mostly empty. I felt very alone and wanted to leave quickly. However, after the service, a man briskly approached me, he introduced himself, invited me to lunch, and wanted to share how Jesus was working in his life. He was genuinely interested in how I came to find the church, answer questions, and get to know me. Afterwards, he took my phone number and called me several times and invited me to other church activities.

I’m sharing these experiences to relate that I don’t think it’s always the routines that make someone feel welcome, but rather the people. It only took one godly person to make me feel very welcome at a dead church, but all the right routines and glad-handing in the world can’t substitute for genuine compassion and love. I’m hearing some people say that a superficial hi is better than nothing at all, but I think that some of those introverted (or should I say introspective) types find this more repugnant than nothing at all. I would rather have some genuine interactions that are uncomfortable than something false. I’ve found myself thinking all day how Jesus would have greeted people if he were at Grace. Would he be less than genuine to make people feel welcome so that they would return to his church? Would he be quiet or outgoing? Would he be somewhere in between? How much would he reveal about himself? As a man of sorrows I can’t picture him as glib, but as the friend of sinners I can’t picture him as demure. How would Jesus behave in the pews?

I think it’s important to examine our church routines and behaviors. Proverbs 27 says that a loud blessing given by a neighbor early in the morning is received as a curse. I think that church greetings can be much like that loud blessing. Greetings are not bad, but if they are given to a person who takes it as unwelcome or if I act out of religious pride (i.e., I’m more spiritual because I have a happier face, or shake more hands) we are not really being loving to the other person, we’re just being self-righteous. There are shy people and people who have sensitivities. I think we need to be careful to understand that everyone doesn’t react the same way. If we don’t recognize the variety within people, our church runs the risk of becoming a bunch of homogenous clones.

I met a woman once who privately expressed to me that her greatest fear in life was the greeting time at Grace. In private, she confided that she had excessively sweaty palms and just thinking about the possibility of the meet and greet made her hands perspire. She worried about the shocked expression she would see when a man would grasp her clammy hand and then recoil. She intentionally came to church after the sermon would start to avoid this problem. Having an elder tell people, “don’t just shake hands with someone you know today, but find someone you don’t know,” only made the matter worse as people would then be straining to extend their hand to hers. I think we need to be cognizant that greeting at church is a bigger issue than I had assumed before speaking with people about this.

All this being said, I think it is important to make people feel loved and accepted because they are truly loved and accepted, not just because we want to make people feel that way. If we keep ourselves fixed on becoming more like Jesus, I think he’ll intercede with our weaknesses, even in our welcoming and greeting shortcomings.

Anna said...

Hmmm. def mixed that up. I meant to say that those that are uncomfortable with the meet and greet time are not going to be comfortable starting their own convo on their own... oops.

Kate said...

ok...i just reread my comment and it sounded really really mean and rude. i'm sorry. i didn't mean to sound so awful. please forgive me everyone! i feel bad now...