Sunday, May 31, 2009

To Churches: Do You Really Want New People?

In seminary, I took a class titled "Ethics of Hospitality." It was awesome, and really challenged and changed my view on Christian hospitality...inside and outside the church. Trust me, this stuff goes beyond coffee and donuts and being friendly. A great book on this subject (actually written by my professor) is Making Room by Christine Pohl.

Anyway, today my husband, daughter, and I visited another congregation. Our friends' son was being baptized, and we went to support them and celebrate with them. The actual baptism was lovely, but the rest of the experience left much to be desired. Upon arriving, we followed signs around the outside of the building directing us to the sanctuary. Upon arriving at that entrance, we found that the door was locked. It was 10:45 and the service began at 11. we went around to another entrance and found it unlocked. We walked through a very long hallway to the sanctuary door. There were no greeters and we hadn't seen any bulletins (when I asked a few minutes later, I found a few on a table in the hallway. Apparently the rest were in the narthex...right near the locked door. And yes, I did tell someone the door was locked.

There was very minimal interaction with the rest of the congregation (which was small---about 60 in attendance). We got a few comments on how pretty our daughter is, but that was it. No introductions or attempt to get to know us. The pastor merely shook our hand and asked us to come again...and that last part was muttered.

It was a traditional service and very subdued. I have nothing against traditional worship, as long as it doesn't feel like a funeral. This did, which is extremely sad since today was Pentecost. There was also very little attention paid to this day in the church calendar, which slightly annoyed me. They did celebrate the 55th anniversary of their church's founding, which apparently occurred the last Sunday in May.

I took my daughter to the nursery when she started fussing. There was an attendant in there with one other child, but she pretty much sat in the chair and made no attempt to actually engage Nora. There was no sign-in sheet or anything along those lines; just drop your kid and leave. I wonder if this church has a hard time finding volunteers for the nursery; many older congregations do, even though they keep saying how much they want young families.

This church sits on the corner of a major intersection in a medium-sized metropolitan area. Visibility is not an issue. They just don't seem to be making much effort towards extending hospitality towards outsiders. If I had been an unchurched seeker, then this experience may have very well turned me off when it came to church.

I've learned a lot over the past year, being a congregant instead of the pastor. The little things really do add's not just a matter of inviting people to church (which is important), but it's also a matter of creating a space and an atmosphere where all are welcomed when they come through the doors. And of truly celebrating the risen Christ with joy, instead of a quasi-funeral service every week.

On the positive side, we visited my mother-in-law's church over Easter, and it was an entirely different experience. We were welcomed and drawn into conversation, the nursery was staffed and Nora was engaged, and the service (traditional in style) was joyful and vibrant. We felt a part of the worshiping community, focused on praising the God we all serve. This was a small, older congregation, but the feeling was entirely different.

OK, I'm stepping off my soapbox. Just thought I'd share that with you.

1 comment:

LutheranChik said...

While I was in my lay ministry training program we had a workshop on "The Anxious Church," where we were introduced to family systems theory. Everytime someone is incorporated into a "family circle," it creates change...which can be very anxiety-provoking for some people. It seems that trying to find the true root of the anxiety is key to understanding why some churches have such a difficult time reaching out. (I'm fortunate in that my small, rural congregation is actually quite welcoming to newcomers like myself (well, it's been a decade, so I guess I'm no longer a newcomer) -- much more so than the church in which I was raised. We defy the stereotype of the insular country church.)