Thinking Out Loud

September 13, 2011

Greeters: An Idea Whose Time Has Gone

I can’t think of a worse way to begin a church visit than one we experienced recently.  The greeter at the door had a slimy hand that made me want to head for the nearest restroom, but we were late and I wanted to get a seat. The woman who was his co-greeter was equally dermatologically challenged.

“I think,” my wife said, “This all began with someone who they couldn’t fit into any other ministry position in a church, and so they said, ‘Why don’t you stand at the door and welcome people as they come in.'”

But that was then. The idea of a handshake is become increasingly archaic. My son’s generation does fist pumps. Certainly a tad more sanitary.

I suggested to my wife that we take a small ice pack in our pockets and then reach our hands out of pockets at the last minute.

“They’ll think you’re dead;” she replied.  She then suggested Vaseline, which you would then remove after the critical moment.

I thought if you did this sort of thing for a month, most church greeters are on a four week rotation and you’d eventually get them all to quit.

“You really should blog this sometime;” I said to her.

To which she shot back, “I already did.”

Dodge the Greeter

This week, my family went to visit a large Pentecostal church we used to attend (two of us did, anyway) long long ago in a galaxy far far away.

The more time I spend doing church at the Motel, the more I enter these services feeling like an “anthropologist from Mars.” But it all comes back to you.

It was much as we remembered it, with a few things we’d forgotten about. One of which, for me, was the greeters.

If you aren’t familiar with this particular ministry, greeters are people who stand just inside the main entry of the church building, for the purpose of shaking hands with those arriving, smiling, handing them whatever documents they’ll need and then turning their attention to the next through the door.

If you are a greeter, I’m sorry, but I only consider my visit to your church a success if I manage to avoid you altogether.

It’s a game I play. I’ve developed several strategies over time, which I’d like to share with you.

1. Choose a path that cuts exactly halfway between two greeters. This only works if they’re not working in tandem (married couples, for example) but if there’s room, each will assume the other is going to get you and, before they realize their mistake, you’re through.

2. Assume a facial expression of urgent concern and walk quickly, looking past and over the heads of the greeters. This creates the impression that you’re trying to find someone in particular right now and won’t brook any delay, and greeters will respect your personal crisis, whatever it is, and let you go.

3. Carry a load that requires both hands. For example, a child and a diaper bag, if you can be rummaging through the diaper bag for something as you slip past the greeters. This may backfire if you look like it’s something they may be able to help with, so use this one with caution.

4. Walk side by side with an accomplice and, just as you reach the critical threshold, turn to speak to your companion, heads close together. Try to look like you’re communicating something “in confidence and just for prayer”. This is also effective if you’re a parent and can look like you’re scolding the child walking beside you for having done something unspeakable just as the family was getting ready to leave for church, without actually humiliating your kid in the church lobby.

5. Skirt closely behind a stranger as they are being greeted. Timing is tight on this one, and if someone is standing in your path, you may be delayed long enough to find yourself face to face with the greeter, so plan your route.

So that’s me.

~Ruth Wilkinson



  1. I laughed out loud. My husband has the art or greeter- dodging pretty well figured out. He simply assumes his natural expression of preoccupation and even if spoken to, feigns selective hearing. I, on the other hand, grew up as a good pentecostal girl and can’t bring myself to disaapoint those who stand so cheerfully. It works like that at Walmart as well. I see the dear older man saying hello to everyone with perhaps a 25% response ratio. I don’t just say hello but I greet him first!. I ask him how he is and if he likes his job. If I am particularily at ease I might score a picture of a grandchild or two. I may have the gift of greeting greeters! This does not mean that I like the idea of greeters at church (or greeters at all). To me it smacks of rent-a-friend and is more suited to a business than a place where I come to worship my King with other believers.And while we are on the subject of this, I need to take a side (yet related )vent about the greeting/hugging/blessing time inflicted on me at most churches these days somewhere between worship and the offering. I hate it. In fact it tips the scales even for me. I shake hands nicely with the four people around me, hug my husband and then sit down to wait it all out. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest :)

    Comment by Cynthia — September 13, 2011 @ 8:57 am

  2. This really was quite funny! I have never had that happen to me. Usually the greeters just say “hi” or “welcome”. I agree that greeters should not be shaking your hand after shaking 100 other hands. Not sanitary at all. Perhaps that particular church should be given a heads up. Thanks for posting. This was quite eye opening.

    Comment by Tina — September 13, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

  3. I absolutely 100% get what you both (Paul & Ruth) are saying. I understand it, I get it, and I partly agree with it. BUT! This is one of those areas in the “church” where you really can’t win either way. If you have people shaking hands at the beginning of the meeting, people make comments like you did in this blog. If you don’t, people complain that the church is unfriendly or “nobody even welcomed me at the door!” Same goes for the Pastors shaking hands at the end of the meeting, some people hate the fact that they have to shake the pastor’s hand and try to come up with some pleasing comment for the Pastor, and if you choose not to shake the hands of the people attending the meeting, you can be labelled as cold, uncaring, or “to proud to even shake his parishoner’s hands!” YOU CAN’T WIN!!!!!! I know, I know, I get that you can be kind, welcoming, caring without a handshake, but some people not only expect it, they WANT it.

    Comment by ilcapitanoinquisitore — September 13, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

  4. Some churches made it their policy to not shake hands a couple of years ago. We were in the middle of the swine flu epidemic scare (which never happened, btw). Some pastors switched to the fist bump; the most ridiculous story I heard was about the church that went to the “air five.” It’s like a high five that stops just short of making contact. They had a fellowship/ greeting time built into their service, which they continued having despite being afraid to touch each other.

    Comment by Clark Bunch — September 13, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

  5. One of the benefits of being in a small Church fellowship is that we are all one spiritual family who take turns at being the greeters and we find it a joy both to greet and be greeted, but I would agree that when visiting a Church when away from home, I have had “unpleasant” encounters.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — September 14, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

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