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Monday, July 31, 2017

The Nemesis of Worship Services?

I was traveling for a few weeks and got to visit a few far-flung churches. Beyond that, I've been in churches since before I could remember. And I'm obviously aware of my own church's practices. One very common event that seems to happen in many, many churches is, to me, the nemesis of worship services. (Let me stress again -- to me. I am not suggesting this is "God's word on the subject" nor that it is true for everyone.) To me it is the killer of the worship moment, the end of the worship momentum. If church worship begins when the service starts and carries on through the end of the sermon, this singular event is the speed bump of the whole thing. What is it? It's that oh-so-popular "meet and greet" that so many churches practice.

You know the one. "Let's stand and greet one another." It occurs after a song or two, maybe a few introductory remarks from some leader, maybe even some announcements. We've just started "warming up", so to speak. "Let's look at God in song." If there are announcements, it can be, "Let's look at what God is doing in our church." And then ... "Stop looking at God and let's look at each other." For the regulars, it's more popular, although studies suggest that many of them aren't so comfortable with it either. A brief salute to friends you know. For the visitors, it can be harrowing. They often feel like targets. "No one knows us and everyone will try to in the next few moments." As if that could actually happen (getting to know someone in a few minutes). Or, worse, many regulars will greet regulars and ignore new people. (It can be hard to break into a church.) A very common complaint is "I'm an introvert and this is really uncomfortable." Whatever the sequence and whatever the purpose, one thing is consistent; we were on a trajectory to pay close attention to God ... and now we are not.

Now, to be honest, I'm not nearly as concerned about what people feel about this event. I'm more concerned about why. Why do we do it? Why do we do it when we do it? Is there really a point here, or is it random ... "tradition"? Have we really thought this through? Most importantly, if the church service is primarily about worship, what place does this hold in that? It may cause people to feel uncomfortable, but so does the preaching of the Word. It may make people unhappy, but church is not about making people feel happy. My concerns are about purpose and effect on the worship.

I wish (again, "to me") it was gone. I'm not talking about "uncomfortable" or "I don't like it". I'm talking about a practice that is an interruption to worship. I can certainly see the need for "the right hand of fellowship" (Gal 2:9). (I wonder why no one argues for "Greet one another with a holy kiss." (Rom 16:16) It is biblical.) I can see the wisdom in greeting, meeting, fellowship, all that good stuff. My only concern is when. Does it need to be done in the middle of the service, in the flow of worship? Maybe it would work before the worship begins. Maybe it would be better at the end of the service -- "Be sure to greet one another as you go." My one and only thought on this is that in the middle of the service it is simply a distraction from the aim of worship.

But, as ever, that's just me. I doubt that my church will stop doing it at my request. (After all, it's the church I attend, not the church I run.) I doubt that my concern about the flow of worship and the attention it takes away from God at that time is a largely shared concern (or it would have been addressed a long time ago). And, frankly, I doubt that most churches have actually put much thought into the practice. It's just supposed to be "fellowship", "friendly", that sort of thing. "And if you don't like it, go somewhere else." (I would hope that no church would ever say that; it's just the sense of it. "We won't change it. It's your problem. Get over it.") And that's just me. Probably just the curmudgeon in me leaking out. I, however, don't think that a sincere concern for the glory of God is a personal, trivial, or pointless concern. To me.


Anonymous said...

"Meeting people." That's the traditional answer of beauty pageant contestants when asked on stage, "What is your favorite activity?"

I wonder if it is a case of ministers, like pageant contestants, being highly extroverted. The meet & greet appeals to them, and they assume it will have universal appeal.

Leigh Marlow said...


Stan said...

Anonymous, I think, first and foremost, most don't think about it. "We've always done it. What's the question?" I think those that do think, "We're here to fellowship as well as worship." I disagree. Church is for the purpose of both fellowship and worship, but the worship service would be for ... you guessed it ... worship. And, frankly, what occurs in those 120 seconds or so doesn't really qualify as "fellowship", either. I don't think they're extroverted. I think they're just misguided.

David said...

I don't remember that being a thing when I was younger. Was I just not paying attention?

David said...

The one I do remember and was an interruption was stopping to send the kids off to Sunday School.