She was thinking…
Okay, so it’s easter. I’ll go. I’ll darken the door of a church.
I find my way there and find a spot to park and wow, so many cars and so many people. I’m shifting and straightening and squirming. I’m wondering if the friendly-looking greeter, a man in a smart suit who looks to be in his mid-fifties, will lock the doors as he sees me approaching.
But he doesn’t. I’m through. The roof has not yet caved in. Lightning has not yet struck the building.
I breathe a sigh of relief, then quickly realize I’m drowning in a sea of people. They are bustling and hustling right past me in a mad dash to show off outfits and drop off children and greet friends and save their favorite seats. I’d try to blend in and follow the herd, but everyone seems to be going in all different directions, and here in this ocean I feel alone and intimidated and tossed on the waves.
I clutch the dusty bible in my hands, both life preserver and shield.
I shift my body and straighten my clothes again. I wonder if I stick out too badly. I wonder if they can see the discomfort rising hot in my cheeks.
I don’t belong here.
Everyone is so… perfect. Perfect and smiling and well-dressed, and these people have it all together. They all know exactly where they’re going; And–oh god–I hope they don’t know where I’ve been. And I’ve heard christians talk about “lost” people before–is this what they mean because I.Feel.Lost. right now.
I’d ask someone for help, but I’m sure I’d use the wrong lingo. Like is it a service or sanctuary or worship center or auditorium or what? And if I do get it wrong will they give me the “You’re not one of us” look? Will they size me up and tear me down?
Oh my god, what was I thinking coming here?
I duck into a bathroom, a moment’s solace.
Composure regained, I finally find the right place. But it’s so full and I’m so grateful when a helpful usher offers to find me a seat… until he leads me right to the front and I glance back over my shoulder wondering if it’s too late to make my escape, trying to think up some valid-sounding reason to turn back. Blank. Drat. I sit down and feign intense interest in the program someone handed me as I walked into this massive room filled with strangers. I try to calm my heart and calm the waves…
…And I don’t know what happens next, sweet friends. My ardent hope would be that members of the church would reach out (as I feel confident they would at the amazing church I’m blessed to be a part of), that the visitor would feel not only welcome but wanted, that through the people and music and message, this would be the day of salvation. The ocean she’s being tossed on would be washed away, and a well of living water would well up within her.
The fact is, lots of people will come to church this Sunday who might not usually come. Some are coming because “it’s just what we do on Easter” and others will accept an invitation and give this church deal one last stab. They will not assume that many in the crowds of people are also trying to find their way. They might feel a little alone or awkward or intimidated.
And YOU (if you are a Christ-follower, one who has turned from doing things his own way and trusted Jesus’ death and resurrection as a payment for your mess-ups) are God’s ministering agent. He wants to use you to reach out.
So here are some thoughts on what we can do this Sunday at our church homes:
1. Be prepared… “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11). Ever notice that in the mad dash to get everyone ready and get out the door on time, you are in danger of falling victim to barking orders at your children rather than helping prepare their hearts (and yours) for worship… Umm… or is that just me?? 😉 Plan ahead. Think about clothes and breakfast the night before so you have a plan for the morning. And get a good night’s sleep, if at all possible.
2. Be real. I know Easter is a time when a lot of church members celebrate with new dresses, but if the only time some visitors come to church is when they are greeted with a lot of super fancy people, it can be more than a little intimidating. Okay, I’m not actually recommending you dress like a slob, but if jeans and flip-flops are your usual Sunday morning wardrobe, would you prayerfully consider not dressing differently? God’s not impressed with our outward appearance, but a lot of people outside the church think He is (impressed or disappointed).
3. Be friendly. Ask God for eyes to see people. If you are like me on Sunday mornings, you are running around like a wild-woman just trying to get all the kids checked-in and situated in time to grab a good seat yourself. But slow down a little. Look at people. Look into their eyes. Say hello. Smile. And if someone looks unsure, assume YOU are the person to help them find their way.
4. Be patient. While I’d dial back the clothes, I’d dial up the patience. Easter is busy at churches, and sometimes regular church attenders act like visitors are unwanted interlopers, stealing “their” seats and lengthening kids’ check-ins and parking lot exit times. I think if we examined our hearts, nothing could be further from how we really feel about someone who is braving the waters of a new church. But sometimes urgency crowds out priority. So be patient this weekend. Say something shocking like, “Oh no, you go ahead,” or, “Are you visiting today? I’m so glad you’re here. Can I help you find anything?” or “Want to sit with us?”
5. Be present. I’ll never forget this one time as a college student at a home bible study: as the leader was praying, the girl next to me quietly whispered “yes” in agreement with his prayer. I was jolted right out of my head-bowed-silence. This girl was actually talking to Someone, not just “bowing her head and closing her eyes.” And you want to know something shocking? God might just have a word for you too this weekend. Engage in worship. Listen with an open heart. Take notes. Respond.
So there it is. Oh my gracious, I can’t wait! What do you think and what did I miss?
[photo credits: St. Columbia’s of Scotland in Edinburgh by Bernt Rostad; A tiny church inside Chateau de Chenonceau in France by Jennifer Calkins]