There are a lot of church worship traditions that I don’t particularly love: responsive readings (I tend to speed-read and then get tired of waiting around because #efficiency). When a pastor makes you “Look at the person next to you and say ____” (my favorite is when my pastor has us do this, and then follows by saying, “Now turn to them and say, ‘I hate when he makes us do this.'” That’s actually funny.) Singing the third verse of a hymn…because you’re just not allowed to touch that one under any circumstances.
But there is one tradition that crawls deep into my soul, and not in a good way. I am referring, of course, to the “Turn and greet your neighbor” part of the service, where there is a 90 second free-for-all of handshakes, hugs, and awkward attempts at avoiding physical contact.
Before you formulate an angry blog comment or release a jar of scorpions to my doorstep, let me acknowledge that this is my opinion. It is not gospel. Your church will not explode in growth if you have people turn and greet their neighbors nor will it decline if you don’t. And to be clear, some of our worship leaders and campuses utilize the turn-and-greet. We have a good-spirited debated about it from time to time, and they have reasons for doing is just as I have reasons for not doing it.
Having said all that, I don’t think I’m the only one to hold this opinion. If you took a straw poll this weekend, you might discover that there are at least as many people in your congregation who hate the turn-and-greet than those who love it.
Here are seven reasons I think we should reconsider the turn-and-greet time:
Introverts hate it. The non-social butterflies in the room have really succeeded by just showing up and maneuvering a several-hundred person crowd. They have managed to have conversations with a few friends that they already know. And now out of the blue…some guy from stage enacts forced fellowship? That’s just brutal. And in some of my most introverted moments, I have actually leaned down, looked one of my children in the face, and pretended to be having a serious conversation with them while hands were shaken all around me. (I’m not necessarily proud of this, just stating facts.)
Germaphobes hate it. It’s always cold and flu season, y’all. And I have been in the bathroom with some of you gentlemen who did ya bizness and then walked out without stopping by the sink. If you think you’re getting any more than an elbow bump from me, you can forget it. There aren’t enough Lysol wipes in the world to help me not think about your lack of hygiene game.
It sometimes feels like it’s covering for an otherwise sloppy transition. Most “turn and greet” times come at a time when it seems like there’s no good reason for it, other than to give someone time to exit or enter the stage, give the band a chance to regroup before the next song, or give the pastor and worship leader a minute to confer on a mid-service audible.
It sometimes is covering for an otherwise sloppy transition. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck… Here’s the deal: think through transitions. From beginning to end, point to Jesus and equip people to look to Jesus even after they leave. If there’s a portion of the service that doesn’t accomplish that, reconsider it.
It can take an otherwise worshipful moment and derail it. If the “turn and greet time” is there just because it’s there, we run the risk of shoehorning a horizontal relationship when people should be focusing on a vertical one.
It can feel artificial. Unless people are extremely intentional, they’ll trend towards talking to those they already know. Which means that the entire purpose of making an outsider feel like an insider just caved in on itself, and now the outsider feels even more like an outsider.
Even when it works, it doesn’t really work. What’s the point of the turn and greet time? Obviously it is to foster fellowship among those in the room. Let’s say that you manage to avoid the pitfalls of the previous six bullet points: introverts don’t curl up and die and everyone actually washes their hands and it neatly fits in the service and people actually talk to people they don’t know. But just about the time that your auditorium is experiencing peak fellowship frenzy, the worship leader has to call everyone down like a kindergarten teacher and shush the laughter and scold people back to their seats so that the service can continue. The point it, I’ve never visited a church and felt authentically welcomed while the countdown clock was ticking. So even when it works, maybe it doesn’t work.
I realize that I’m a Negative Nelly when it comes to this topic. And I don’t want to bemoan church leaders who want to foster fellowship. So how do we take the spirit of the turn-and-greet time and actually create a process that might work? That’s coming up in the next post.
Thanks to Brian King for inspiring today’s post!