Beautiful branding, fab coffee, but no one spoke to me….

Earlier in the year, I was visiting a friend who was looking for a church home. She’d had her eye on one particular place, so one Sunday morning, we steadied our newbie nerves and went to visit.

The church was ablaze with welcome signs, flags and invitations to join small groups, mission trips and community activities. There was a genuine buzz about the place; the graphic design and branding was contemporary, the service was well-ordered and they even let us take (very good) coffee into the auditorium. What was there not to like?

We sang, watched some really creative short videos, heard an inspiring preach, and got invited (from the front) to join a missions trip.

When it was over, we filed out, got into the car and went home. It was only later that I twigged why, despite the creativity and orderliness, that I felt confused. Not a single soul had spoken to us. We’d been branded, watered, spiritually fed and sent out – but we’d remained completely anonymous and unknown.

We did go back a second time, this time we tried a little harder, sheepishly smiling at people in groups, lingering hopefully in the hallways, but the same happened again. Maybe it was our fault? Maybe we should have approached people? Maybe we should have signed up for something or asked questions?

I don’t know,but I do know that in contrast, the first time I walked into my church home (also as a nervous newbie), two people saw me, wandered over, offered me a seat, asked my name. I later even got an invitation to lunch, and it wasn’t long before I knew I’d found my ‘home’.

I love branding and community work and vision trips and great coffee (three cheers for all of that!) but if there is no heart within the church to genuinely know its people, then perhaps it’s not really functioning as a church should?

I’ve yacked on about this before – church is (to me!), a place to know and be known, a place where you have to let people know in advance if you’re not around, because you would be missed. In my travels, I’ve been to huge mega churches which have gotten this completely right and I’ve (sadly) been to small churches which huddled afterwards in seemingly suspicious cliques.

The truth is, more than great signs, fantastic coffee or truly beautiful marketing, what people ‘outside’ are really after (yaknow…the ones we’re trying to reach) is identity, purpose, belonging. Anyone can join a club, but deep down, everyone wants to belong and know they are loved by others, in one way or another.

My pastor’s wife said to me recently; ‘At our church, we love each other, we look out for each other…but there’s always room for one more’.

Always room for one more. Wouldn’t it be great, if that was the strapline of every church?

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11 thoughts on “Beautiful branding, fab coffee, but no one spoke to me….

  1. Yes I agree. A church is a family, a place where you belong, where you are known. By not speaking to newcomers the sense of community is lost or not conveyed to them. You begin to feel like a cog in some ‘bless me and send me’ machine rather than a personal connection with the living stones of the church. Talking and engaging with newcomers is vitally important, no matter how awkward it may make one feel.

    1. Agree…I also really think it’s not the job of a newcomer (on their first few visits) to reach out. If the church is culture is always about adding new people to the ‘gang’, then the church members need to see it as a shared responbility. πŸ™‚

  2. Paula – that is so true!! It brought a lump to my throat as I read it out loud. How dare we allow the souls of men to walk out feeling unnoticed and more importantly feeling unloved. I agree so much with your sentiments. And can I say it has happened in our own fellowship. But never again!!! We must guard EVERY new soul that comes onto our meetings and welcome them and care for them as Christ would. It’s no use sending the message out and not being there when they come in. We need to be the people “it says on the tin”. Sorry you had that experience. But through our experiences we are able to keep each other “on our toes”.

  3. That’s what I usually say when someone says “The church is full of hypocrites.”
    “No it’s not.” I say “There’s always room for one more!”

  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and struggles. We too have struggled with this frustration, this lack of being seen and known.I’m thankful that other people are expressing it as well. It can feel difficult to balance, like…how to to honestly write about what is lacking in “church” today, while also being gracious and loving, because I, too, play a part. I’ve definitely been working through this process a lot lately. Thanks again for your post!

  5. Good piece Paula, sadly I think this is common. I am wary of churches which feel they need to make a big thing on their websites and publicity about how friendly and welcoming they are, when the experience of the visitor is often that of you and your friend.
    More controversially I also have a thing about churches which claim to be “Christ-centred”. While that may be a worthy intention, are they really? Really? It would be more honest to say “we are seeking to become a Christ-centred church/community/whatever – but we have a way to go yet…”

  6. I rarely read blogs as it takes me hours to do the daily email etc but this one caught my eye. I hope that your friend had the courage to carry on and found somewhere where she felt at home and with family. Thank God that he opened his heart to us and came to make His home with us (John 10) – you tell a sad story but unfortunately one that’s all too familiar. You certainly shouldn’t have signed up for something on a first visit unless God spoke really strongly to you about it and it is frustrating that you even had to consider that. Grrr! You and your friend are welcome at our church in Telford at any time. Please remind your friend how precious and loved by Jesus she is.

  7. Thanks everyone for your comments. In order to be fair to the church in question, I sent them a (nice) email, letting them know my thoughts as a first-timer. I had an acknowledgement back from an admin assistant, saying it would be passed to the leadership team for their comments, but I didn’t hear anymore after that.

    I think they had all the right ‘ingredients’ but were lacking the glue to keep it all together. I wish them well!

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