The guy walks into the building and sheepishly looks around and walks forward as a hand is shoved into his hand. The guy at first is taken aback at the treatment but looks up to see the genuine smile on the owner of the hand and his defenses fall. “Hello, welcome to church.” The guy returns the handshake and greeting and makes his way to the back on the left side of the auditorium and takes in the massive room. As the man walks through the auditorium he notices the massive curtains covering old stained glass and has to stop and take a peak at the old artwork now covered over.
The guy sits down listening to the pumped in music at just the right level to still accommodate conversation. The guy places his coat on the seat next to him to make sure no one sits beside him. The lights fall and everyone stands, so he does too. A familiar sound fills the room, had he heard this on the radio or something? The guy at first does not sing as he feels silly but he starts to sing when he notices that he really can’t see anything and that probably nobody can see him also. The guy finds that singing is actually a bit enjoyable even though the words are a bit distant to him.
The next song starts and he realizes that he didn’t recognize the last song but just that these songs all seem to sound similar. The third song starts and while he still did not know the song he was confident he could follow the song fairly well. This time he starts paying attention to the words he was singing, which were very positive he thought. The guy noticed how all the people on stage were significantly more attractive than he was. And even though nobody could see him in the dark room he was reminded that he needed to work on his weight. The guy sat down feeling a bit uncomfortable but he was disarmed again when the dressed down pastor came out on stage and communicated with the demeanor of a kind father, one that the guy assumed all these other people had.
The pastor began pointing to the Bible passage on the screen and after reading it he began telling a story. The guy paid close attention while the personality of the pastor worked his magic and continued to disarm the guy and make him feel welcome. The guy was a bit taken off guard when he actually related to a story that the pastor told and smiled as he thought that this pastor was a bit different from those other priests.
The pastor continued and the guy began to have positive feelings about God that he had not thought about since he was a kid. The guy surprised by his own receptiveness smiled again as he thought that there was something to this Christianity. The guy wondered if he was being had and looked around to see if everyone was looking at him. He calmed himself when he realized that other people were just as engaged as he was. The guy appreciated the humble approach of the pastor and attentively listened to the rest of the sermon.
Afterwards another man came up asking for money with the music playing again, but the guy appreciated that he had said for new comers to not feel compelled to give as it was a privilege of those who claimed the church as their home. When the service ended the guy wanted to approach the pastor and thank him but the room was crowded with people talking. The man stood and looked for a moment and he decided that maybe next week, he would.
In these three different stories, three different guys attend the same service in a church. These are not meant to sum up all church experiences but to pinpoint some different specific perspectives of the visitors.
The third guy was clearly new to the experience but he displayed a basic openness and a teachable spirit. He possessed humility you might say. He was able to accept the service as it was and with this he was able to take something away from it. He may come again. He grew. This is the type of person we hope all visitors to church are like. But they aren’t.
These were not different services catering to different people but different people interpreting their experiences. Unfortunately we can’t always reach everybody, so all we can do is serve the Lord as best we can. All we can do is trust that God will draw those who he will draw. That is not an excuse but it is simply to say not everyone is going to agree on church and that should be OK.
Outsiders are not going to agree on church and neither do the insiders. These were examples of outsiders interpreting church, but insiders have the same issues. In fact some of these types of people are also inside the Church and these people also affect the way visitors view the experience. Some are proud and want their way. Some are humble and always give in. Some are ignorant and don’t see why any of it matters. Some are there going through the motions. Some are there wondering what lunch will be and if a certain other person has come today.
Guests and members both have their opinions and preoccupations. As much as outsiders have preconceived expectations and experiences, surprisingly even so do people who are already in attendance. As uncle Ben said to Peter Parker “With great experience comes great preference.” (he didn’t actually) But with different people come different feelings of comfort and desire and background. This is why it is important for churches to remember that they are a body. Different parts are different.
Shoulders like to be rubbed but bellies do not. Cheeks appreciate being squeezed but double chins do not. Hair likes to be combed but ankles do not. Heads like to be scratched but throats do not. And so on and so forth…
All bodies are different, all churches are different, because people are different both inside and out. People visiting are different and people regularly attending are different. We are all not going to agree on the carpet or the drapes, the chairs or the pews, the drums or the organ, the lights or the candles, the wine or the grape juice, the sacraments, or even the preaching. And the music, well? That is for another blog. But we just aren’t going to agree on everything are we?
If we do not start remembering that we are a body with different parts then we may just start simply being a bunch of people jockeying for our sacred cows. This only appeals to other people with similar sacred cows. It is only as we stand together that our love communicates to the world. The church should be the one place where a little leg room is given. Where a little grace is given. If the body of Christ cannot get along then why should outsiders be interested?
I know this started out about the visitors but often we can get hung up on them. We can’t control the visitors can we? But we can address ourselves. If we are too focused on our preferences then someone may come to our church and simply leave confused. Or if we are fighting over our preferences than somebody will come and leave more cynical than they came. But if we are humble in our approach to church and to each other, people who visit will see it and grow.
Our preferences may not appeal to the outside world but our love will, the Gospel will. So if the church cannot start granting grace to each other, if the body cannot take care to be understanding of each other, then the body will start to decay.
And we don’t want visitors smelling dead meat when they visit, right?