Imagine this super awkward scenario:
I’m sitting in a movie theater with my wife, about to take in Spielberg’s most recent thriller. It’s date night, a time we set aside each week to get out of the house and have a good time. The extraordinarily long movie previews end with that eye-popping Regal Cinemas ad that tells me to silence my cell phone and reminds me of the butter-drenched popcorn I can smell from the movie theater lobby. The moment has arrived. The Dolby surround sound reverberates through the room and the production company lion roars loudly. Here comes the feature presentation we have paid to see.
Then it happens. Without notice or explanation the lights in the theater come on…those lights. Not the lights from the screen–the side lights that in a life of movie theater visiting you and I have only seen come on once or twice. Something must be wrong with the projector.
A chubby guy in a company-issued purple suit and white gloves quickly shuffles down the side aisle toward the stage. As he walks in front of the giant screen it looks a little silly, and we realize that there is actually a stage in front of the screen that we didn’t notice before. He isn’t holding a microphone, so he will have to speak loudly. Whatever is happening, at least we’ll get an explanation, and then hopefully the show will go on.
“Before we begin the movie, we’d just like to take a second and have you stand up to your feet. That’s right, stand up. Now take just a minute and greet those around you, then we’ll get on with the show.”
Are you kidding me?
Greet the people around me?
Is this a joke?
That kind of an experience may very well convince my wife and I not to wander back into that particular theater any time soon. Why? Because that’s not why we bought our tickets at the door. I don’t mean to be insensitive or rude, but we don’t normally pay to get into the theater on date night in order to meet random strangers who happen to share our taste in action movies.
I doubt anyone reading this has ever had that kind of an experience in a Regal. But how about in a church?
Thom Rainer recently wrote a blog that went viral called “The Top Ten Ways to Drive Away First Time Guests.” In non-scientific (Twitter) surveys he conducted, the #1 response that people cited for why they chose not to return to a church they visited is “the stand up and greet those around you” time. Rainer followed up with a post called “Should Your Church Stop Having a Stand and Greet Time?” where he cited 7 reasons why he believes church guests are uncomfortable with this activity. At the conclusion he asked for opinions and comments from churchgoers, and the blogosphere more than obliged, as nearly 200 people have commented in the 48 hours since his post. I saw a friend who shared this article on his Facebook page, and he had 3 dozen responses within a few hours.
Apparently the “Greet one another” time in your church is a bigger deal to people than you may realize.
We have this time at LifePoint every week. We call it “connection time.” It’s usually very early in the gathering, sometime in the first 5 or 10 minutes. Most weeks, the song-leader begins this time after an opening song (as people are already standing), by saying “take a couple minutes and greet those around you.” What follows is 2-4 minutes of “connection time” where people greet those sitting near them, or walk around the room shaking hands and giving hugs.
So why do we do this?
At pastor school they had a class on this where they said that this 2-3 minute time is necessary in order for everyone in your church to go to heaven. That’s why we do it.
I can’t speak for other churches, or for the sometimes-too-sovereign “church guest,” but at LifePoint we engage in this time week after week because our purpose for gathering is different than our local Regal Cinema. We gather to worship together. When I go to a movie with my wife, I’m not there for anyone else but Carissa and myself. I’m sorry if you happen to be sitting in front of me at that theater; but I’m not there to learn your name, ask your opinion about the movie, or exchange germs during flu season through a handshake with a perfect stranger. Insensitive? Maybe. Reality? Yes.
Here’s the issue: in stereotypical American church culture we often blindly enter our church buildings with a Regal-like attitude. We get the idea that worship is something we consume, rather than something we participate in. We think that we go to worship in order to feel better, get blessed, and take something useful away. True worship is not about getting, it’s about giving. Gathering in worship isn’t about staying in my comfort zone, it’s about sharing in something with those around me to the glory of God. As comfortable as anonymity may be, it’s not a right context for gathered worship.
I get the introvert argument on this subject. Personally, those closest to me would tell you that I’m more of an introvert than those who know me from a distance would suppose. Yet when I gather for worship with the church, I have to realize that it’s not about me, it’s about the glory of God and the edification of one another. Though I may learn, grow, and transform as an individual in those moments, it is not happening in an individualistic context, it’s happening (by God’s design) in a community context.
The Bible teaches us that true worship is a one another type reality. We’re told to “speak to one another,” “greet one another,” and to “show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” As I said in my previous post on this subject, worship is not about selfishly consuming, it’s about selflessly participating.
One of the major complaints about the “meet and greet” time at churches is that it’s inauthentic or superficial. Is this really the case? Or is this more a matter of the perception of someone who would just rather be left alone? Sure, connection time can be superficial and inauthentic, but that’s a matter of what each of us individually chooses to bring to the table. Personally, I don’t take out my plastic smile kit heading into this time each weekend. Are there weeks that I don’t feel like walking around shaking hands with other people? Admittedly, sure there are. But that’s OK, because when I gather with Jesus’ church to worship Him, it’s not about me.
 Ephesians 5:19
 1 Peter 5:14, 3 John 15, Titus 3:15, Hebrews 13:24, 1 Thess 5:16, Phil 4:21
 1 Peter 4:9.