Monday, December 03, 2007

Church through a visitor's eyes

Guest blogger David Zimmerman, wrote a series on Church from a visitor's perspective, over at Church Marketing His third installment made me think of few church visits Gail and I have made.

Gail and I went to a big church right in the middle of town when we first moved to Arkansas. We liked the service and the teaching and all that good stuff. When we finally found the adult Sunday school we were obviously the only ones who didn’t know everyone else in the class. Not even the person running class said hello or introduced him self. We felt like we interrupted a personal conversation. It was quite frankly horrible. We didn’t go back.

The week after that we went to a much smaller church. The wall behind the altar was floor to ceiling windows. The altar boys stood with their backs to the windows. About half way through the service four birds started what appeared to be a strafing run right at the altar windows. Three of them pulled up but one must have not seen the window. It flew straight into window right at the height of one of the altar boys head's. The kid jumped about three feet. I don't think anyone else in the place saw it but I did and I laughed my silly rear-end off. Unfortunately that was the highlight of our experience there. We didn't go back.

Then there was the quaint little episcopal church on Cape Cod. We were by far the youngest people there, 30 something. During their announcements they asked any visitors to stand up. I wasn't going to stand but Gail elbowed me and we both stood. The ushers appeared from the back and handed us what appeared to be a loaf of aluminum foil. It turned out to be a loaf of somewhat stale cranberry bread. It was a nice gesture but not worth the discomfort of having to stand up in front of strangers. We didn't go back.

We went to this one church that met in a high school auditorium at the recommendation of a friend. I wanted to boogie as soon as the service was over. But someone stopped us and said hello, made some small talk, and introduced us to someone else. We went back a couple of more times. Someone invited us to dinner with some other young families from the church. We went back a few more times. And a few more after that and a few more after that. Eight years later we are still there.

Just in case you tend to be a little cynical, much like myself, we attended Crossroads for two years before I went on staff. This whole thing could sound a little self pimping that is not my intent. Crossroads is not without its faults but welcoming folks into our community is not one of them.

Looking back on it, and this isn't rocket surgery (yeah that's what I meant to write) it wasn't the preaching or music or children's program that led us to our church home. It was people who took an interest in us. And it wasn't obligatory faux interest either. No, the folks at Crossroads were actually interested in who we were and what God was doing in our lives.

What are your experiences, good, bad or ugly, with visiting churches?



wardo said...

Somewhere in my Christian education -- it might have been a confirmation class -- I learned that the definition of "church" is "people".

Someone very close to me is going through a crisis (for lack of a better word) because the church she belongs to, in the same denomination that's given her strength her entire life, has seemingly turned its back on the basic values and qualities that one would expect to get from a church.

Your post gives an excellent demonstration of what we really need from a church, and I'm going to pass this along to her.

TK said...

Wardo-"church" is "people"-- well said. I hope and pray your "someone close" will emerge from their crisis stronger and closer to God in spite of the Church's shortcomings.

alan said...

I often correct people when they say "go to church," because the church is people. We go to meetings, gatherings, services... whatever you want to call them... of the church, but we are the church.

As far as interesting experiences, I remember going to a church once where they were very attentive to me as a visitor. Evidently, since I was not a regular at their church, I needed saved. Even professions of faith did not stop the probing. They kept trying to get me to define what I meant by believing in Jesus. I don't remember how I got out of there, but I just remember being really pissed off at how this church treated a visitor. Having been a pastor, I wasn't too concerned with how they treated me personally... I was just angry at the thought of some well-meaning person wanting to check out a church and having to play 20 questions.

Steve F. said...

I have searched my blog for a story that I'm sure I've quoted about 19 or 20 times, and I can't find a single reference to it. I'm going to try to write it down today - it's part of a bigger theme about searching for what "church" means to me. I'm glad you tickled my writing bone, brother...

Steve F. said...

OK, so I got one part of it down - it's over here. More is coming on this topic...