So you want your church to be visitor friendly…

Note: I shared this on another site earlier this year. We’re now plugging into a good congregation, but I think it’s still worth posting.

 

My family attended seven different churches so far this year. We have one that we plan to see again, plus maybe a handful more to at least visit.

Most churches want to encourage visitors who arrive. They want to make a good impression. They want people to come, then come back, and then stay. So let me say at the top that you are always going to struggle with this, and it’s not always your fault when it doesn’t work out. Your best efforts at visitor friendliness are going to fall short because different visitors are looking for different experiences.

 

For instance, how to greet a visitor? When our family walks into a new church, my wife is willing to announce her name to the first person she sees, notify them that we are there for the first time, and ask how to get to the sanctuary. On the other hand, I would rather walk in quietly, find the room and go sit down with the least amount of air disturbance. How should you handle this? Do you have greeters ready to offer a handshake and a program and walk them to the sanctuary entrance? Do you let people enter on their own, presuming that navigating from your main entrance is simple? Both are good strategies, but neither works for all people. While I’m more introverted than my wife, I think the greeter method is probably best. I’m not offended by someone who wants to greet me, even if I don’t need it.

But someone walking into your building should be able to figure out where to go without personal contact. And it’s not just your main entrance that requires attention. Based upon the layout of your parking lot, the front door is often not the closest from the car. My last church had a beautiful main entrance where greeters greeted with gusto and elan. But on the south side of the lot was a door that was much closer from where many parked, with almost immediate access to the sanctuary. Yet in the 5 years that we were there, they never put a greeter at that door.

People should be able to navigate from every unlocked entryway you have. Last Sunday we entered on the lower level from the parking lot. The sanctuary was upstairs, but we didn’t know how to get there. We went up a flight of stairs to a closed door. We had no idea what was on the other side. It turned out to be the children’s ministry hallway, and we weren’t certain that we were permitted to go in that way.

What should I be able to find the moment I walk into your building? The bathrooms, the sanctuary, the nursery, the information desk or visitors center if you have one. I know you’re proud of your coffee station (that’s what all the hip, relevant churches are doing these days), but that’s really the least of my interests. I can usually follow my nose to the coffee if I want it. I can’t always find a place to pee.

 

Here’s the next big hurdle: getting visitor information.

If a church is going to be able to minister to a new family, they need information about them. Names. Contact info. Age of children. From this they can begin a communication plan that may benefit the family as they check out what the church has to offer. And the sooner they can capture information, the sooner that plan can begin. With the best of intentions, churches want to follow up with a visiting family quickly to see how they can help them take the next step.

This is completely understandable. I get it. But I have no intention of giving you my information on the first visit. I will not sign your guest book in the narthex. I will not fill out your attendance book in the pew. I will not fill out the information card attached to the worship folder. I will not go to your visitors desk and fill out a form. I’m not going to tell you my last name when you shake my hand and introduce yourself. I will give you whatever information you require if I leave one of my children in your care while I attend the worship service, but that’s the only instance that applies here.

You see, odds are I’m not coming back. I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t want to hear from you again unless I initiate the contact. But that’s just me.

It’s a delicate balance. Churches want the information to be more responsive. Visitors don’t want to give you that information until they’re ready, yet some may feel snubbed if you don’t pursue that information. Somehow churches have to communicate their eagerness to get to know new people as soon as the new people wish to be known. And many new people aren’t very good at telling you when to respond. In the end, I would err on the side of asking for the information, but assume that they won’t do it on the first visit. Please don’t be offended if I tell you you’re not going to get lucky on our first date.

 

Finally (for now), let’s talk about liturgy. I’m not looking for your church history at a glance, but after visiting traditions for the first time ever, there are things you do that I have no idea what to expect. Episcopalian and Catholic worship guides do a pretty good job of explaining what I’m experiencing, but the rest of you suck at this. What am I about to do? What if I don’t want to take communion? And what is the process of taking communion anyway? Am I okay if I don’t kneel or genuflect at certain moments?

Here’s the deal: in our post-modern, hipster American society, I don’t know what you’re doing, and it’s a little weird without some explanation. So tell me at the beginning that it’s okay if I don’t get it at the moment (a woman sitting next to me in the Episcopal service was very patient with me as I didn’t help her lower the kneeling bar for prayer), or explain it to me as you’re doing it. You need to know that your traditions are new and strange to me. And if you want me to come back, tell me you’re not ashamed of my ignorance.

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Current Mindset

If I have to hug a liberal to embrace orthodoxy, so be it, as I’ve yet to get there by french kissing fundamentalists for 30 years.

Pomp and Circumstance… and Patina

I went to my high school reunion last Saturday. The 30th reunion. Sheesh, where has the time gone?

I used the dread these things, nervous about how I would be perceived by my former classmates. But after 10 or 20 years, you start to relax and just enjoy the experience. This one had it’s particularly good moments.

Almost as an afterthought, we reached out to a few teachers to see if they could come. Four of them did, and among them were:

  • My band director. Mr. L was a fiery conductor. We all loved and feared him at the same time. I can still march a 22.5 inch step from my marching band days.
  • One of my favorite English teachers. Mr. D taught me to read novels with an eye for what the author was saying about life and society. I never wrote a good essay for him, but his passion for literature spurred me to read with more understanding.
  • My favorite history teacher. Mr. M taught ancient civilization, but was a true Renaissance Man. He taught history well, but was gifted in the theater arts. I had the privilege of working for him in both school and community plays. It was a  great pleasure telling him that I chose my college degree (social studies education) because of him.

I received a crushing bear hug from a fellow choir member who happened to be a gold-glove boxer in his younger days. He was among the many black students that came to my school when we merged districts. I was painfully reminded of my initial fear of kids who were different than me, and of my gratefulness that they were a part of my young life. Looking back, I wish that I had made more friends like him in school.

I got to talk to old friends that I seldom contact, to marvel at what they’ve become. Some have grandchildren already. Some have experienced the death of a spouse. Many look back on their younger years and smile at their ability to still emulate those days, while others chose a completely different path as young adults, and relish at their accomplishments today. Others still, have completely reinvented themselves and are enjoying a new start in adult life.

They’re all remarkable stories. I’m the richer to have heard them that night.

So here’s to the McCluer North Class of 1983.

The Rhetoric of Liturgy

I got to go to the London office last week, but the reason is not important here.

I landed on Sunday morning, but my hotel room wasn’t available yet. “Go have a coffee and come back in a bit,” the desk clerk said. So I walked toward the office location to verify that I could get to it on time the next morning.

Along the way I passed St. Paul’s Cathedral. I can’t help but think of the song “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins when I think of that place, but it’s truly a magnificent site.

English: St Paul's from the south west in 1896.

English: St Paul’s from the south west in 1896. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got there in time to attend a Choral Mattins service. For those of you like me who weren’t raised in Catholic, Anglican, or other high-church traditions, a Mattins (or Matins) has all the basic parts of a Mass, but without observing Communion. The “Choral” part was provided by a gifted choir of men and boys, singing many of the prayers that are offered throughout the service.

During the homily (sermon), the reverend referred to the Te Deum (song of praise) that the choir had just finished. He said that the Te Deum had been offered in that location for 1,400 years. I had to chew on that notion for a bit – my church just celebrated its 40th anniversary last month.

Then he made what I thought was a truly profound statement: The rhetoric of liturgy is etched into our Christian experience.

The Rhetoric of Liturgy. The words we use as part of the teaching of our community, in the context of what we do as we gather. It becomes a part of how we identify ourselves. It is etched into our existence. It is how we teach our children and grandchildren what we believe, who we are, who we belong to.

And it doesn’t matter if your church is 40 or 1400 years old, high and formal or hip and trendy. You have a Rhetoric of Liturgy. Celebrate it. Be mindful of it. Be careful with what it teaches your children.

Nothing That a Breakfast Sandwich Shouldn’t Fix

I’ve been in a funk lately. It happens. I get stuck in my head, ponder my lot in life, and in general, become a not-so-fun person to be around.

This morning while driving to work, I prayed. God, fix this. Help me to get over myself.

Then while walking to the office, a guy on the corner asked if I would buy him something to eat.

Yep. Thanks, God.

Just. Don’t.

I’ve said this before, but I’m sure that I wasn’t the first:

The Gospel is offensive enough.

It doesn’t need our help, nor does it grant us the right to be a jackass about it.

You just can’t trust the homeless anymore

I wanted an afternoon snack. Decided I wanted a chocolate shake. There’s a Hardee’s one block from the office.

Hardee’s + shake = snack craving fulfilled.

As I’m walking to said Hardee’s a homeless dude walking toward me asked if I could give him money for something to eat, or if I would just get him something to eat. Since I’m heading toward an eating establishment, I said yes, and asked what he would like. He said he wanted ice cream. I said that’s exactly what I was getting. Would he like a chocolate shake? He answered in the affirmative.

I continue walking toward Hardee’s, him following, and he asks if he can get a hamburger, too. “A hamburger and a chocolate shake? Okay,” I said, and went in to make the order.

He then stepped into the restaurant and began cussing like a sailor, threatening the people near him. Two Hardee’s employees slowly engage him and escort him out the door with graceful ease of something they’ve done before with this man.

The man stood outside the door, swearing loudly, but at least staying near the corner. I’ve already made and paid for the order, and plan on just handing it to him on my way out. But then he starts to wander down the street, past the windows until I can’t see him any more.

When my order arrives I walked outside and looked down the street. He was gone. So now I’m stuck with two chocolate shakes and a hamburger, and no (crazy) homeless guy.

I’m sorry. Forgive me. You’re fired.

NOTE: I wrote this last April.

I love it when grace shows up on TV.

While not a devoted watcher, I occasionally tune in to Celebrity Apprentice on Sunday nights. D-list or former superstars compete for their favorite charity. Trump pokes at them in the board room, then fires one each week.

So far this season, it’s been the men against the women, and while the women’s team has its share of eccentricities, the whack jobs are on the men’s team. And by far the biggest oddballs are Gary Busey and Meatloaf.

Gary Busey. Meatloaf. These guys are poster children for all things nutty.

But let’s get to the grace part…

Last night’s task was an art gallery project. Team members had to create art, then sell it that night at a New York “art gallery.” The team that makes the most money for their charity wins the task.

Now, nobody on either team is particularly gifted as artists, (although some of the outcomes were pretty interesting), which probably raised their stress levels as they got started. Teams bought their own art supplies – canvases, paints, brushes & sponges, etc.

As the men’s team is getting started, Meatloaf can’t find some of his art supplies, but notices that Gary Busey has begun using some of the same stuff. Meatloaf goes absolutely bat-crap crazy and shouts at Gary for “stealing” his stuff. Gary is bewildered (pretty much his typical self), and Meatloaf keeps ramping up, threatening violence. Fellow team members separate them. John Rich does a pretty good job of cooling down the room by reminding them that they are working for charity. Meatloaf, however is still fuming.

Then somebody finds Meatloaf’s bag of art supplies. Busey had not actually stolen them.

The day goes on. Both teams are working on their projects. The men’s team finishes early and gets to the gallery with plenty of time to arrange the space, with enough time to relax a bit before the gallery opens.

Here’s where the grace appears. The guys are eating dinner out of foam containers, sitting in folding chairs. Gary & Mr. Loaf sit facing each other, and Meat starts talking.

He confesses to Gary the shame he feels for how he spoke to him. “This has been tearing me up inside all day,” he said. Even if Gary had taken his supplies, which he acknowledges was a misjudgment, Meat should have never spoken to Gary that way. “I’m very sorry, and ask that you please accept my apology.”

Gary looks Meat in the eyes and says, “I accept your apology. I forgive you.” He also had a goofy acronym for FORGIVE, but it didn’t change the moment of grace for me.

Busey at one time claimed to be a Christian. For all I know he still does. I don’t know Mr. Loaf’s spiritual status. But what a beautiful picture of grace.

I’m so sorry. Will you please accept my apology?

I accept your apology. I forgive you.

I almost teared up watching that last night.

Waiting for Christmas

Christmas decorations

Image via Wikipedia

As a kid, I was usually the first one up on Christmas morning. I began a “tradition” of turning on the tree lights and just enjoying the solitude. I would look at my distorted reflection in the ball ornaments, smiling at my giant nose, seeing if I looked better in red or green or pale blue (it was red).

And then I would have to wait for my brother and parents to wake up before we could open presents. It was torture sometimes. There they are, sitting under the tree, my name on the tags. But I can’t open them yet. They are mine, but they are not mine yet.

And so I waited.

There are several places in scripture that use words like at the right time — or my favorite — in the fullness of time, God’s promised provision arrived. There are centuries of silence between the Old and New Testaments, and then our Savior is born.

What is the significance of waiting? What is the secret of God’s timing?

Batter Up!

I played little league baseball for a couple of years. I wasn’t any good. My team wasn’t any good.

My least favorite part of baseball was batting. I found the whole experience generally terrifying, especially as a left-handed batter (Quick fact about me: I’m right-handed, but bat left. I golf left. I kick with the left foot. Weird, I know…). Let me describe it to you:

First, they make you wear this giant piece of plastic on your head, but since there are only 2 for the whole team, the thing sort of rests on your scalp and flops around. Your ears are covered except for a small hole designed to let you hear, but basically acts as a wind tunnel. All I heard was the roar of gale-force winds being channeled directly into my ear cavity (okay, I’m being melodramatic here, but it’s my blog).

Then standing on the mound – which in little league is about 12 feet away – is another 8 year-old kid. In his hand is, let’s face it, a glorified rock. And he gets to throw it at me as hard as he can. We won’t let an 8 year-old drive a vehicle or fire a weapon because he’s not coordinated enough to do so, but we’ll let him chuck a rock  with all his might at close range. Plus, he’s used to right-handed batters, so a lefty just makes him all the more unpredictable.

Beanball time.

The first year of playing, my batting average was 000. If I got on base it was because I walked or got beaned. If I was lucky, I would strike out quickly and return to the bench. I still get a little jittery thinking about the walk from the on deck circle to the plate.

But I also remember the peace I felt when I walked back to the bench afterward, complaining about the stupid blind ump, and thanking God I was still alive.

Peace. Paul says we can experience peace that surpasses all understanding. Real peace. We have a good and loving God who wants to give His children peace.

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