I suspect this post will unintentionally upset someone, but that’s not my goal. Having been a Christ-follower for 45+ years and a pastor/professor for almost 40 years, I’ve shaken a lot of hands. If, though, as some health experts have recommended after the COVID-19 crisis, the handshake disappears, I’m not sure we should worry much about that change. Here’s why:
- Many folks don’t shake hands anyway. Some stayed away from potential germs long before COVID. Others who are just shy shake hands only if someone else initiates it. Still others come to church with their hands so full that they almost can’t shake a hand anyway.
- Too many folks shake hands out of expectation and habit rather than genuine Christian fellowship. It’s just what we do—because that’s all we’ve ever known. Handshaking is just our cultural way of greeting, and I doubt it does much to strengthen Christian fellowship.
- Handshaking is often only superficial. We’re fine with shaking hands with people we already know, so we do what our practice expects us to do with them. Sometimes we also shake hands with people we don’t know, but we still don’t ask their names. We don’t really know them any better even after we’ve greeted them with a handshake.
- We can still greet people well, even from a social distance. That means we slow down long ago to actually talk with someone and honor him or her with our time even if only for a few short minutes. A wave, and smile, and an actual conversation can go a long way. We might not greet as many people as we would with only a handshake, but the greeting itself might “stick” longer.
- We probably have been unintentionally passing sickness through our congregations by our handshakes. Some folks come to church not feeling well, not thinking much about their spreading their sickness. Others simply don’t wash their hands very often. We likely have been inviting illness every time we shake another hand—especially one that has shaken many other hands that same day.
- Surveys have shown that many first-time guests don’t like the “stand and greet” time in a church service in the first place. Years before COVID-19, for example, Thom Rainer surveyed folks who were quite certain about their dislike for this “forced” practice. As a believer who’s also an introvert, it’s not my favorite time of the service, either.
- How we greet each other in church isn’t nearly as important as how we love each other the rest of the time. The friendliest handshake doesn’t mean that much if we never talk with each other from Sunday to Sunday. On the other hand, genuine Christ-centered, life-on-life friendships among brothers and sisters in Christ will be transforming even if we never shake hands again.
Just my thoughts. Let us know yours.