If you’ve been around church at all in your life, you’re probably aware that, whether they intend to or not, churches have a way of making new people feel a little awkward and uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s because we have been conditioned to believe that religion is a “private” experience and therefore, I’m not expected to interact with folks when I go to a worship service. Or perhaps… it’s just that churches do a lot of really stupid stuff to try and welcome new folks.
There’s the old, stand-up-in-the-middle-of-the-service-when-everyone-else-is-sitting-down-and-identify-yourself-as-a-visitor routine. There’s also name tags of some sort. Gotta love name tags. I once visited a church that served coffee (like most churches do) after the service while folks mingled about. However, while everyone was drinking out of paper cups, they had a stack of gold ceramic mugs that visitors could use to identify themselves to the regular folks. If you are reading this and thinking, “Oh, that’s a neat idea.” No… No it’s not. It’s a bad idea on so many levels. That morning, while visiting that church, I poured my coffee in a paper cup.
At our church, one of the things that we do that has the potential to make new people feel uncomfortable is asking people to greet those around them before we sit down after the worship set. It looks a little something like this.
Most of the churches I’ve attended that do this make it pretty quick. Just enough time to shake a few hands and say a few hellos. At our church, we let it linger. Three… Four… Maybe even sometimes five minutes. It has become a pretty fixed part of our service. And we receive a lot of different responses to it. The extroverts love it! But others say things like…
“It seems to break the flow of worship.”
“I’m an introvert and it is the my worst nightmare come true.”
“If people are visiting they may end up standing around with no one to talk to.”
I understand these concerns. I’ve tended to dislike this portion of the service in the past myself. But within the last year, I’ve come to see it in a new light.
At first, I saw it as a transitional program piece, in that, it helped us move from one worship portion of our service to another (i.e. from music to sermon). But as a of late, I’ve started to see it as a significant worship moment in and of itself. How so?
1. Liturgy – The shift in perspective began by thinking through our liturgy, (i.e. all the different elements of our service) and what makes the different pieces worthwhile. In a sense, I was asking the question why do we do what we do? We try and create space that is casual and comfortable, but also has purpose and meaning. This caused me to ask, “Do we keep the ‘greet your neighbor’ piece of the service?
2. Connecting Vertically & Horizontally – When we gather weekly to worship, our hope is that we can create space for people to connect vertically with God. But due to the ever-growing autonomy of our culture, it’s equally important that we create space for people to connect horizontally with each other, even if we force them into it for a few awkward moments.
3. Recognizing Christ in Us – So yes, the “greet your neighbor” piece of our service is an important piece. But not just for the sake of being counter-cultural, or in hopes that folks might meet new people. The reason that connecting horizontally is important, is because it reminds us that, through the Spirit, Christ dwells in our midst. Christ is not found in isolated individuals, but in His collective body.
In a day and age when people say “church” is on the decline, it’s important for us to remind ourselves, that even though life in community has it’s challenges, and even though there are awkward moments when we gather together, nevertheless, we all need each other. The fullness of God can only be experienced with the people of God. Living in America, whether we know it or not, we are formed and shaped by an autonomous individualistic culture to value the individual over the community. We need intentional reshaping to see that we need Christ in the context of community.
Grace and Peace.