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?