LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer says he wasn’t trying to be controversial when he posted a blog Nov. 1 on things that churches inadvertently do to drive away first-time visitors. The No. 1 on the list — “having a stand-up-and-greet-one-another time in the worship service” — took on a life of its own.
More than 750,000 page views later — the biggest post ever on ThomRainer.com — Rainer discussed the “tidal wave” of comments pro and con in a leadership podcast Dec. 5. On Dec. 8 LifeWay, publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, plans to roll out a new resource aimed at helping congregations do a better job of retaining first-time guests.
Rainer said interest in the list — which started out as an informal, unscientific Twitter poll with “a margin of error of plus or minus 90 percent” — continues to grow.
“I didn’t realize that this is such an issue,” he said. “Churches are really concerned about this.”
“This ended up being a battle royal over the Internet, on the blog posts, and the debate ensued,” Rainer said. “But I have to say overwhelmingly, if you look at the preponderance of evidence, we really need to consider this whole thing. We need to reconsider whether we are doing it or not.”
In a later post based on reader comments, Rainer summarized seven things first-time visitors don’t like about the tradition.
1. Many guests are introverts.
2. Some guests perceive that the members are not sincere during the time of greeting.
3. Many guests don’t like the lack of hygiene that takes place during this time.
4. Many times the members only greet other members.
5. Both members and guests at some churches perceive the entire exercise is awkward.
6. In some churches, the people in the congregation are told to say something silly to one another.
7. Not only do some guests dread the stand-and-greet time, so do some members.
Rainer said studies differ on how many people are introverts, but for the sake of discussion he supposed 40 percent. “You’ve got four out of 10 first-time guests who may be just turned off by this greet-one-another time where people come and shake your hand.”
Rainer said No. 3 is a bigger concern during cold-and-flu season, but “there are germaphobes” as well. If 10 percent of the population has some obsession with cleanliness and another 40 percent are introverts, he, said: “Already you’ve got half of your potential first-time guests that don’t like this thing one way or another. And if you have an introverted germaphobe, they’ll never come back.”
Rainer said the congregational greeting is likely a variation of “passing the peace,” a communal practice used in liturgical churches for centuries. Rainer said he doesn’t advocate getting rid of liturgy, or even necessarily of the stand-and-greet, but it’s something to evaluate.
“To all church leaders I would say at all times look through the eyes of others in your church,” he said. “You can get so used to the way you do church and the way the church looks and the way you do worship that you really don’t know why you do church.”
“When it’s all said and done, you might do things differently because it will be more effective, not only in worship for all who are believers there but also for reaching those who are attending first time or second time.”
Rainer said he is confident that some churches use the practice effectively, but he cautioned about the common response from church members who defend it by saying they have been told their church is the friendliest in town. Rainer said every pastor hears that from time to time.
“When I do consultations, every leader that I can remember told me that, and most of them were of declining churches,” he said, “because you only hear the positives.”
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SOURCE: Baptist News Global