Is Your Church a Hugging Church?

I started the Woman to Woman Mentoring Ministry at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, which as Pastor Rick Warren describes . . . “We’re a hugging church.” So I knew that women attending one of our Woman to Woman Mentoring Orientation Coffees would need welcoming from a “Greeter/Hugger” at the front door.

Some churches starting the Woman to Woman Mentoring Ministry question the need for a Greeter/Hugger, until they have an experience similar to the church who shared this story with me:

A helper offered to be the Greeter/Hugger at our Orientation Coffee, but she couldn’t hug a stranger so she would shake hands. We aren’t a hugging church, but since we were following your Woman to Woman Mentoring Ministry Coordinator’s Guide where you stress the importance of having a Greeter/Hugger, we decided we would have her help in another area and find someone who would hug the women as they arrived. Then during the sharing time, one woman said she was a newlywed, and shortly after their wedding, her husband deployed overseas. The hug she received from the Greeter/Hugger was her first hug in eighteen months, and that hug assured her the mentoring ministry was just where the Lord wanted her. After the Coffee, the helper who said she couldn’t hug strangers, said she would be the Greeter/Hugger at our next Orientation Coffee.

How Did Church Members Greet Each Other in Jesus’s Day?

God’s design for the church was for believers to be family. Jesus made that clear in Mark 3:31-35:

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

We often refer to ourselves as brothers and sisters in Christ, and some churches still call each other “brother _______” and “sister _______,” but most have dropped the use of this familiar term, maybe to a detriment. Families hug each other in greeting, so it shouldn’t seem strange for brothers and sisters in Christ to greet each other with a hug.

The early church actually went a step beyond a hug and greeted fellow believers with a kiss. This wasn’t a romantic kiss, but one like Europeans or relatives give to each other, maybe on the cheek. When Paul sent letters to the churches, this is how he told them to greet each other . . .

“Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.” Romans 16:16

“All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.” 1 Corinthians 16:20

“Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss.” 1 Thessalonians 5:26

Peter also said, “Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.” 1 Peter 5:14

Why Don’t All Churches Hug Today?

I asked several people if they had a time of greeting in their church, and if so, was it shaking hands or hugging. One man replied that there was greeting prior to the service and if you had a relationship with someone you might hug them, but if there had been some animosity or misunderstanding, you wouldn’t want to hug that person. I thought that was interesting since this is church we’re talking about! But then I had a disagreement with someone, and it was hard to hug that person until we resolved it.

When my husband and I travel and attend churches, we notice that sometimes we’re the only people hugging. One church we attend regularly, the pastor sticks out his hand to shake my husband Dave’s hand, and as Dave gives him a hug, the Pastor laughs and says, “Oh yes, you’re the hugger.”

I don’t remember that many people hugging when we first started attending our small mountain community church where we live now, unless they were already friends, but now everyone hugs! I’m so used to hugging people, I once hugged our new neighbor, and I barely knew her. It just seemed like the welcoming thing to do, although she did seem a little surprised, I did it without thinking . . . because I’m a hugger.

Admittedly, some people are extremely private and don’t like people invading their space. They’re uncomfortable hugging, especially if they don’t know you. I’ve never had anyone take inappropriate advantage of hugging in church, but I suppose that could happen too. And it’s important to caution children to be leery of anyone they don’t know hugging them inappropriately, and be sure your church has a vetting process for everyone working in youth and children’s ministry.

Here are hugging etiquette considerations if you’re a hugger like me, but not sure how the other person feels about hugging:

  1. If it’s a first meeting/greeting, shake hands, especially with the opposite sex.
  2. After several meetings, try a side hug. If you feel resistance or tenseness, return to handshakes.
  3. Be open. Explain that you’re a hugger, and ask if they’re OK with a hug in greeting and honor their wishes.

If you’re uncomfortable with hugs, that’s OK. Don’t feel badly or that you have to explain. A bright smile, and kind, friendly greeting speaks volumes.

“An honest answer is like a warm hug.” Psalm 24:26 The Message

What are your thoughts on giving hugs during greeting time at church?

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  1. Tracy Wilson says:

    Janet, I would say most people are huggers in our church.
    I worked with the youth for a very long time and our youth pastor recommended side hugs.
    With adults, if it’s the opposite sex we are hugging, it’s kind of a neck hug without body contact unless it’s someone we know well.
    I think hugs make us feel closer to that person and they just make us feel good!

  2. advocate for no perfume in public says:

    Hugs are a big reason that I rarely go to church, due to a strong issue with perfume and cologne. Not everyone wants to be hugged especially by a stranger. Hugs are great but not always for everyone, due to reasons people do not consider; allergies, abuse, breathing issues due to scents or other reasons that people do not seem to want to talk about or try to understand. I have had people spray Lysol in face and slice my tires because I explained that perfume caused breathing issues. It is not personal attack to the wearer it is just a need to be able to breathe, but so many get offended and confrontational when told you cannot breathe due their chosen scent. Usually they do small nice, but breathing issues still occur no matter how nice the scent. (For some reason church goers love to pile their scents on too.)
    Victims of abuse have to ease into being hugged by others, so as warm and loving a gesture greeter hugs are meant to be, we all should consider that not all people will receive love from a simple hug.
    Thank you for putting the hug etiquette in your story, We all need to remember the list.

    • Janet Thompson says:

      I’m saddened that this would prohibit you from going to church. I find fewer people wear perfume these days. I stopped wearing it years ago because so many people were allergic. You make some great points. Could I suggest you maybe get to church after the greeting time or sit at the back of the church and exit to the bathroom during greeting. Once you get to know people, you can tell them about your allergy and I think you’ll be received well in the church because it is not uncommon. Thank you for sharing and reminding us all.

  3. Carol Gorman says:

    I had a lady that always sits in the very back of the church tell me that she sits there is because she gets extra hugs from people entering the sanctuary. She is a widow, and could tell that she truly values her hugs. I have always been a hugger, and I can appreciate the need at times for a side hug.
    I prefer a regular hug. Hugs reaffirm our caring and love for each other.

    • Janet Thompson says:

      That’s like the story I shared in the blog about the young bride and I’ve heard many widows say they miss hugs. That’s such a sweet story! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Carol Gorman says:

    Please include tell me that “the reason” she sits there (first line).
    It is 11:30 p.m. as I wrote this and didn’t catch it.

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