Last week’s column featured 10 ways churches may drive away first-time guests based on a Twitter poll church researcher Tom Rainer performed with those who indicated they would not return to that church. The number one issue keeping first-time guests away was the “meet ‘n’ greet” or as Rainer describes, “stand and greet time.” In a later post, Rainer expressed continued surprise this was such a contentious topic, and the source of much discontent by guests, even members. In fact, it’s gone viral in the church community.
In a further post this week, Rainer lists the seven most common responses to this issue, along with a representative brief comment received for each. I could add verbiage to each one but it would only detract from the power of participant descriptions.
– Many guests are introverts. “I would rather have a root canal than be subjected to a stand and greet time.”
– Some guests perceive that 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.”
– 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.”
– 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.”
– 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.”
– 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.”
– 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.”
I address this issue regularly in my church consulting and in personal conversations with pastors. The refusal of churches to address this issue is beyond me. It’s almost like it’s an inside joke. I hear, “We know people don’t like this, but we have to do something to put them together.” Usually, the “Passing the Peace” portion of services has been less offensive to me, but many guests and members disagree. I’ve experienced all of Rainer’s seven issues in my Alaska church visits. Why would churches risk losing a return guest visit over this practice?
Religion warmth study
This summer the Pew Forum released the results of an interesting study comparing, on a zero-to-100 scale “feeling thermometer,” how various religions are rated by Americans in terms of warmness/coldness. Jews, Catholics, and evangelical Christians were rated the warmest with scores of 63, 62, and 61 respectively. Buddhists, Hindus, and Mormons received neutral ratings with scores of 53, 50, and 48 respectively. Finally the lowest ratings were received by atheists and Muslims with scores of 41, and 40 respectively.
Some interesting takeaways were that groups tended to be rated more positively by their own members. An example is that Catholics rated themselves with an average score of 80 versus non-Catholics rating Catholics with average scores of 58. Evangelical Christians, i.e. self-described born-again or evangelicals, rated themselves 79 on average while non-evangelicals rated them 52 on average. Interestingly, 27 percent of non-evangelicals rated evangelicals as cold, while 30 percent rated them as warm.
Jews and atheists rated evangelicals negatively, but evangelicals rated Jews highly. Christians and Jews are rated more favorable by older Americans vs. younger people. Younger Americans rate other non-Christian faiths more favorably. The study indicated that Jews were rated highly by whites while evangelicals and Muslims were rated more favorably by blacks.
Evangelicals tended to negatively rate non-Christian groups with 39 rating averages on Buddhists, Hindus 38, Muslims 30, and atheists 25. Atheists gave evangelical Christians a cold 28 rating. However, atheists gave non-Christian groups positive ratings of Buddhists 69, Jews 61, and Hindus 58. Other religious groups gave negative ratings to atheists.
Personally, I believe these ratings carry through into our interaction with those of various persuasions. In my visiting various faith traditions throughout Alaska, I’ve been privileged to interact with the people of these faiths. I enjoy hearing their stories of how their faith sustains them and guides them through life. There is value in practicing human virtues with people of all faiths.
Many religion choices are made or maintained through lifelong connections. Often people tell me they are a cradle Catholic, lifelong Lutheran, and so forth. By not choosing a particular religion, one is less likely to have a cogent explanation for their faith. I’m intrigued by the Catholic evangelism initiative which focuses, in part, on equipping Catholics with the knowledge of why they are Catholics, and enhances their ability to share these beliefs in ways other than being a “cradle Catholic.” To have friends with and relate warmly to people of other faiths or belief structures does not require you to drop or amend your personal belief structure. It really means exemplifying basic qualities of being human.