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In my travels, as a church consultant, I have the privilege of worshiping in a wide variety of churches, with many different styles. I had an interesting experience at a church I recently visited.

In most churches, it is common, at some point in the worship service, to greet those around you. The length of time to greet varies from church to church.

The pastor announced, “Greet those around you.” I spotted a young family in the front row, to the right of where I was sitting. They looked like they could be guests, so I made the effort to greet them first. Then I greeted those around me. As I finished greeting, I spotted a man three rows back on the other side of the aisle. He was alone and looked sad. I thought, “I’ve got to greet this guy.” As I walked toward him, the pastor said, “Please be seated, and we will continue with the next worship song.” I picked up the pace to shake his hand and get back to my seat. However, as I shook his hand, he said, in a grumpy voice, “Will you sit down so we can continue the service?”

What lessons do you learn from my experience greeting this man? Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. The church operates with a standing invitation for those who are burdened and troubled. And some of them actually come!
  2. Hurting people hurt people. This is not a signal to hurt back, but to recognize a possible need for care…and prayer.
  3. Not everyone gets what Christian worship ought to be like. Many have grown up in worship experiences where “somber” equals “holy” or “respectful.”
  4. Some have never read the Bible where it says Christians greet one another with “a holy kiss.” In First Century culture, that meant a kiss on both cheeks. In our generation? It might be a handshake or a hug.
  5. Others have over-defined worship as “religious rituals”: behaviors they inherited from another era. Rituals are not sacred. What’s in your heart and mind is what is important.
  6. Be careful not to judge another person’s behavior in worship: whether it’s the enthusiastic greeter like me, or the man who didn’t want my greeting. Jesus said, “Don’t judge, or you will be judged.”
  7. If you’re a friendly greeter, don’t let an occasional negative response change your expression of welcome. It’s worth the risk!
  8. Maybe it’s just me, but I think worship ought to be more fun and friendly. What do you think?

Shouldn’t churches, of all places, be filled with those eager to welcome and sensitive to those who don’t feel they want a friendly greeting?

What lessons have you learned from greeting others in church? We welcome your comments below.

Kent Hunter, founder of Church Doctor Ministries, is known as the Church Doctor. His most recent e-books are The Future Is Now and The J-Dog Journey, available at no cost. Contact him at (800) 626-8515, by emailTwitter, Facebook, or visit www.churchdoctor.org