You arrive at 9:30AM Sunday because that is the time the church’s website (which doesn’t look like it has been updated for 12 years) said Bible class started. But your car is the only vehicle in the parking lot. So you get out and look at the service times posted at the entrance. The sign says service starts at 10AM. So you wait.
As you are walking back to your car, you notice that the church lawn looks like it was cut yesterday. It obviously really needed to be mowed, because there is a sea of dead grass everywhere. Nobody has raked or trimmed. The lawn looks like a hayfield.
At about 9:56am, cars start to pull in. When it looks like a few people have entered, you decide to walk into the church building. The lobby smells funny, the florescent lighting is flickering, and the walls are lined with ugly faux wood paneling from the 70’s.
You are greeted with a mellow “Good morning” and handed a bulletin. You notice a line through the hastily folded pages because the copier hasn’t been serviced in a while. There are typos throughout the articles and there is an ugly and inconsistent combination of Serif and Sans Serif fonts throughout the text.
You walk into the auditorium and find a seat. Only one person walks up to you and introduces herself. Bible class doesn’t start until 10:07AM, because the teacher decided to wait for more people to show up. When class does start, the teacher just reads from a book. The topic is, “False Doctrines of Denominationalism,” and you hear a lot of platitudes and phrases that everyone else seems to understand but you. Maybe if you understood what he was talking about, you might have gotten more upset when he started talking about the denominational church you grew up attending.
After class, another lady says “Hello” as she is walking toward the lobby. Nearly 4 times the number of people who were present for class show up for the worship service at 11AM. Only two more people come and introduce themselves to you.
When church starts at 11:04AM, a man gets up and stands behind the podium and makes announcements for what seems like 10 minutes. And then he asks if anyone else has something to add. Someone in the back yells about a Sister Jones who is trying to pass a kidney stone and requests prayers.
The song leader gets up and leads some songs. Each song is painfully slow, and he can’t seem to maintain a consistent pitch. You wonder if he is the only one willing to lead the singing.
Then the preacher gets up to speak. You have a hard time following the sermon; it doesn’t seem to have any direction. He seems to ramble for 40 minutes and you wonder if the lesson had any meaningful content at all. After the lesson, no one responds to the invitation.
Then some men get up to lead a communion service. You don’t know what’s going on now, because you’re not used to churches that serve communion in the middle of the month. One of the men leads a prayer and passes out some bronze dishes without any explanation. You think things like, “Am I supposed to eat this cracker now, or wait for him to tell me?” “Am I supposed to put my cup in the pew or back into the tray?” When the offering dish comes your way, the usher passes over you quickly and awkwardly.
After a few more slow songs and a prayer, the service is over. You’re relieved, and head for the door. A man who didn’t speak to you earlier asks you to fill out a card with your name and address. “I sure hope these people don’t show up at my house,” you think.
An experience like this characterizes many churches. Does it describe yours? What do you think visitors see when they visit?
Christians, we need to have ‘outsider' eyes! Yes, I know congregational worship is about God, not us. Yes, I know church buildings don’t matter. Yes, I know God is more concerned about the heart rather than physical things.
But what do non-Christians see when they visit for the first time?
- Do they see a group people who are excited and passionate about their faith, or do they see people are a stale and outdated?
- Do they see a group that is warm and inviting, or do they see people who are clique-ish and standoffish?
- Do they see a group of people who are proud of what the Lord has blessed them with, or do they see a group of people who have let things become run-down?
- Do they see people who are committed to excellence, or people who are just kind of hokey?
Brothers and sisters, “whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord” (Col. 3:23). Make your church building and church family appealing to the outside world! Make people want to be a part of the most precious thing in the world, the Lord’s Church!
Christians don’t need to have the fanciest building, the highest attendance, or the best programs. But we need to be the very best we can be. We must to lead, serve, build, explain, teach, and contribute in a way that will please the Master.
In all things, EXCELLENCE!
Do you have any practical suggestions in how we can improve the first-time experience of a non-Christian?