This is my friend Greg. He has a motorcycle.
This is my friend Greg and my friend Dave. They both have motorcycles. The three of us were on a project together in Decatur, IL and we had a few minutes to spare. Dave and Greg really wanted to go to the Harley dealer. They thought it would be fun. I don't have a motorcycle. I thought I would feel awkward and outta place. I did. It made me think about the experience new people must have when they visit a church, especially if they haven't spent much time in a church. I thought I'd blog about that. And then I remembered that in January of 2007 I did. Here it is.
Belly up to the Bar
Belly up to the bar … and take a walk in your guests’ shoes.
I don’t want to glamorize it, but there was a time in my life when I was more comfortable holding down a bar stool than worshipping in a pew. In that season, I found most watering holes to be pretty welcoming. There were new friends and connections to make. I encountered familiar tastes and smells, and social customs played out in predictable ways. I knew how to enter the room, how to find a table or seat at the bar, and my drink order rolled off my lips with ease. I knew just what to do and just how to do it. This kind of place wasn’t exactly home … but I felt at home.
Interestingly, this is how we want our churches to feel as well. Welcoming. Friendly. A place for connecting where experiences stir our senses. A place that feels like home. So why don’t “disconnected” people connect as they visit our churches? Perhaps it’s because the things we find so familiar are the very things our guests find so foreign. As my wife started dragging me to church, I can recall not knowing exactly what to do and how to do it. There was a conversation running in my head that went something like this. “Where do I sit? When do I stand? Do I eat the bread yet? Am I even supposed to take the bread? ‘Debtors?’ I thought it was ‘trespassers’ or something like that? Old Testament? New Testament? Where is Deuteronomy? What is Deuteronomy? Sweaty palms. Get me outta here!” Uncertainty and self-consciousness prevailed … and we hadn’t even gotten to the sermon yet. For me, these were all barriers to my return visit … and Kingdom entry.
I so respect churches that intentionally strive to take down these barriers through improved communications. On-site hosts to welcome and guide, worship folder information that describes and demystifies service activities, and a sensitivity from the platform to unchurched guests are just the beginnings of what can be done to bring folks along more comfortably.
I challenge you this week to belly up to the bar at your local pub. I’m not talking Applebees; I’m talking your area’s version of the “Hog Snort Saloon.” Go ahead and put yourself in this unfamiliar place. Spend some time assessing the things that are foreign to you. See how it feels to be outside your comfort zone. And then return to your church this weekend to discover how you can take these new experiences and walk in your guests’ shoes a bit. Perhaps you’ll find new ways to be more welcoming, guiding and nurturing.