Intersection of Life and Faith

8 Tips for Introverts during 'Greet Your Neighbor' Time

  • Amy Green Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
8 Tips for Introverts during 'Greet Your Neighbor' Time

It’s a moment more tense than a long pause during a group prayer. A moment filled with more unspoken expectations and fears than when the pastor picks up a fussy child during the baby dedication. A moment more social than the summer picnic potluck, and with significantly fewer ways to run away, unless you want to vault over rows of chairs and sprint for the exit (which is apparently frowned upon in some circles).

I’m talking about that terrifying split second when your pastor tells you to “Turn around and greet your neighbors.” For those who’d rather remain quietly in their seats, happily worshipping and reading and listening alone, it’s a rude awakening. If that’s you, I’ve got a few survival tips from years of experience. Read on, my introverted friends. Read on.

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  • 1. Don't panic.

    1. Don't panic.

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    Absolutely nothing good comes of dreading this time of the service. A well-timed bathroom break might work to get you out of it every now and then, but someone’s going to get suspicious and suspect more than your cup of morning coffee if you’re always out of your seat at the same moment week after week.

    When the announcement comes, breathe in deep and remember that your extroverted brothers and sisters are going to have to spend the rest of church quietly and solitarily taking notes on the sermon. Dangle that low-interaction time in front of you. You can do this. You’re almost there.

     

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  • 1. Don't panic.

    2. Leverage the extroverts.

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    This is especially convenient if you have an extroverted spouse, but chances are you can identify at least one person near you who isn’t looking around with a pained expression, who seems, incredibly, to actually enjoy this time. Chances are good that if you make even the slightest effort to greet the resident extrovert, he or she will carry the conversation, often introducing others to you and making small talk with ease. With any luck, you’ll only have to smile, answer a question or two, and nod a few times. 

    This may sound manipulative, but remember: extroverts get joy out of this whole process. God has actually given them the ability to chat with total strangers—and love it. You’re just helping them use their spiritual gifts

     

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  • 1. Don't panic.

    3. Be appropriately honest.

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    When the expected “How are you?” is asked, know what level of trust you have with the person. If it’s someone you’ve never met or don’t know well, saying “fine” instead of sharing your struggles and/or complete testimony is completely acceptable. But if it’s a friend or someone in your small group, challenge yourself to say something like, “It’s been a rough week, but I’m glad to be here.” Consider asking if that person can talk more after the service.

    If, on the other hand, you actually are fine, try going into a little detail. A response like “Great—we just came back from a family reunion” or “Just fine, but I imagine I’ve gotten a little more sleep than you this week. How’s the new baby?” can keep the conversation from dying a premature death.

     

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  • 1. Don't panic.

    4. Seek out newcomers.

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    When I’ve been new at a church, one small face among a sea of total strangers, it’s meant a lot to me when someone—anyone—greeted me and seemed glad to see me. It’s a simple act that shows the love of Jesus because it says, “I see you and care about you.”

    On the other hand, I know there have been times that it felt much easier just to chat with a few nearby friends instead of greeting a newcomer, which seemed mildly terrifying. Here’s the beauty of greeting strangers, though: They are probably feeling way more uncomfortable than you at the moment, so by comparison, you’re not doing too bad. I suggest saying, “Hi, I don’t think we’ve ever officially met” in case they’ve been coming to the church for months and just haven’t sat next to you before. It’s not nearly as scary as it sounds.

     

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  • 1. Don't panic.

    5. Write down new names.

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    I keep a journal for sermon notes, and I surreptitiously jot down the names of newcomers in the margin with a brief description: “Dave, glasses, moved here from Houston; Sharon, looks like Aunt Jodi but blonde; Kid, can’t remember his name, but I think it was from the Bible and started with a J.” Even the act of writing down the name makes you more likely to remember it next time, but you can also cheat and look at your notes before the next week’s greeting time. I’ve found that it’s less intimidating to greet someone a second time when you aren’t frantically scanning your brain to remember who they are. And, bonus: Everyone feels more welcome when someone remembers their name.

     

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  • 1. Don't panic.

    6. Talk to the kids.

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    Why, you ask? Because a lot of kids are used to being ignored, so when you give them some attention, they might just carry the conversation and spare you from having to say anything at all. (Fine, that’s the selfish reason, but it’s also great for kids to feel that they’re a significant part of the church even from an early age.)

    My favorite open-ended question for kids, after “How old are you?” is “What’s the best thing about being [age]?” That way they can say whatever they want. Other good options are, “Tell me about your [object they’re carrying or design on clothing]” or “What do you like to do for fun?” Even if you don’t have time for a conversation, smiling and saying, “I’m glad you’re here today” makes kids feel special.

     

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  • 1. Don't panic.

    7. Prepare for cold and flu season.

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    This is reality, people: Germs are everywhere, and there are very few better ways to catch the latest strain of sickness than a mass handshaking fest. If you’re sick, feel free to smile at people and say, “Sorry, I would shake your hand, but I don’t want to pass along this cold.” If you’re healthy, stay that way. A little bottle of hand sanitizer might be in order during particularly sneezy months, and maybe even a “Hey, Dennis, looks like you couldn’t escape the bug that’s going around,” with a slap on the shoulder instead of a handshake. Keep the church virus-free, as far as it depends on you.

     

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  • 1. Don't panic.

    8. Remember why we're doing this.

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    While some of this commentary was in good fun, don’t forget that churches with a greeting time didn’t say at an elder board meeting, “Hey, I have an idea for something we can do to make half of our church miserable each week!” The point of greeting each other is to remind us that we’re supposed to be a family. Even when there aren’t enough hours in a day or a week to spend deeply getting to know each person who attends our service, we should do what we can to make sure everyone feels welcome. It’s Sunday—celebration day—and we’re together again.

    In a world where it’s easy to feel lost in the crowd, as believers we need to be better at seeing each other and greeting each other, so we can better love and serve each other. No, five minutes of small talk and handshakes probably won’t do that, but it’s a start, and God can do great things from humble—and even awkward—beginnings.

    Our goal should always be the same as Paul’s in Romans 15:7, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

     

    Amy Green is an extrovert (but only barely) who gives out hugs every Sunday at her church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can also find her blogging about life, culture, and theology at themondayheretic.wordpress.com.

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