I really do not talk about my faith journey much. Especially in a public space, as someone always finds something to criticize.
As a commercial fisherman, of course I was still wide awake at 3:45 AM on mother day morning. So I cleaned up the kitchen disaster zone for my wife, checked in on her plans, and we determined even though it was mothers day, I would take the first reasonably warm and sunny Sunday (It was 7 C when I left – yes it has been that cold and rainy for weeks) and take a motorcycle adventure.
From time to time I have these Sundays I jokingly refer to as “Motorcycle Church”. I also have “Trail Church” as well. The concept is probably anathema to some folks.
You get the point, I drove off on my Honda CTX700. I make it a point to find some church, where I stop and do some serious reflection.
I stopped at an old closed down church (As far as I know) and looked up and saw this. This picture spoke volumes to me.
Let me share some of the random thoughts that went through my head as I sat there. Nothing insightful, or helpful. Just venting. Take a shot at me, i’m beyond caring.
To keep up with the times, about as modern an upgrade we can do is install a florescent curly bulb, instead of an incandescent.
And even this light bulb is no longer relevant. We are on to LED bulbs now. (Florescent bulbs, though they saved energy in our house, proved to be too toxic, and ironically, took more energy to build, design and produce than they saved. But it made Billions for the companies that marketed the idea. Is this also demonstrating that being “current”, at times, may not be correct?)
I really feel for church leadership, trying to navigate the times, but they end up trying to balance marketing messages that develop a church schizophrenia that few can win at. I was reading an article this week that said people determine if they will return to a church within the first ten minutes. WOW, I was thinking it was more like five minutes max.
The writer listed these two factors (Among many others) determining a visitors return.
1. Under greeting a guest – I get it. Been there, felt it. You walk in, and it seems no one cares we are there. That can feel cold.
However, on the other side of the coin, there are times we are happy to be unnoticed, to slip in and just be immersed into the body of Christ at large. Some people like their private personal space, and like to be a little more anonymous. Others not so much. There are times I am ready to meet new people, and other times I am emotionally not in that place.
2. Over greeting a guest. Sometimes people do not connect enough. Yet, we all know how it feels to be smothered.
How on earth can church leadership or a church member balance this without a huge paranoia? I couldn’t. The institutional church developed a deep schizophrenia in my life that I could no longer take as a leader.
I know when I visit a church for the first time, there are times I love the connection when I arrive, the more people I meet the better. Other times I enter a new church feeling like I want to be left alone, let me be invisible and allow me to sit among the church family, and with God, but I have nothing much to say today. A hello is enough for the today.
So, how on earth can church members or leaders win at this kind of foolish schizophrenia marketing talk instills in us?
How can we prevent under greeting when for one person two greetings could be enough. Yet, for another, three greetings is not enough, depending on their emotional state that day?
Also, what constitutes a “greeting” anyway? For some a hello is enough of a greeting. For others asking were they live, or what they do for a living is none of our business, at this stage. How can we know which person this is, today?
How can you prevent over greeting? If I have been interacting with others, and giving real eye contact to the people in front of me, I have no idea how many others greeted that new guest that walked in five or ten minutes ago. I noticed them only now. So should I greet, or not?
Unless you designate people as “Professional Greeters”, how can you control over greeting? Unless you tell your members to let those designated to do that task, and certainly only those “gifted” to do that job.
We certainly could not permit the quirky old man, the strange woman, or that socially awkward person to walk up to a new person, like happens to me so many times. now could we? 😉
Yet, they too are the body of Christ. They too are part of what you are getting in this family here. One big quirky family who does not know how to balance the limits of too much, and not enough, on a given day. Yet, I know that there are church leaderships who do just that, ban such ordinary folks from encountering guests.
Marketing is not who we are as a church. Let me rephrase that, it is not who I am.
Oh my gosh the schizophrenia of it all.
The paranoia this whole conversation brings to my life. I know this article was written to help. But all it does is makes ordinary people like me paranoid, should I talk to that person or not? But I can assure you, assigned greeters are a ruse. Regardless, of how I feel on a given day, all I need is someone real to talk to for a minute. Someone who is beyond the surface games of image and impressions, but has a rawness, honesty, and humility about church and the truths of God, and life. If they have been assigned the task of greeting me, I can tell, even if they are gifted. They have a lingo.
Also good markets will direct me quickly to their offerings this Sunday morning, both for myself, for the kids, and in 30 seconds I’ll have a run down of what will happen this Sunday morning, and where I am to go. etc. Their job is to inform… But ask nothing about me. It is about giving information about the product offered.
Most people are looking for a spiritual family to walk life with, who we can dig into the spiritual truths with, not an event to sit through and experience.
Well, maybe that is not true either.
The article speaks of updating buildings and web sites. All good things. I’d certainly look at a church’s website, and the sentimental ambiance of a 100 year old church with bouncy old floors does not appeal to me as a regular place to gather. So there is a side of me that understands.
Those things may very well be what a “first-timer” is looking at, and looking for.
I am not a first-timer. What appeals to me is probably not what appeals to them.
I’ll take the group by the riverside, the introvert who balances off my reserved extrovert, the quirky person who makes my kind of quirky welcome too, and the people who allow us to be who we are, as we search scriptures, probe the words of Jesus, and make decisions about how to live out our faith in such a world as this is today.
Sometimes I feel that as relevant as this church structure can get, is to upgrade to a curly bulb, in a LED world
Lots of tweaking, trying a little modification here, or there. Oh my gosh the first time I recommended PowerPoint. Even that was nothing more than a new light bulb in the same old box.
Professional websites, programs, facilities and greeters… Pheuffff. Money and time most churches don’t have. Even the ones who do have it, are functioning at the max of offerings to maintain the whole structure. An economic downturn, and the resulting exodus of 10% of the families moving for work can be catastrophic to such a financially demanding structure.
I no longer desire to live out my faith, or ministry by a structure that puts us all on a financial edge to maintain. My choice, no right or wrong. You can do other wise.
A few things are becoming clear. “Cultural Christianity” can no longer support itself, because cultural church attenders will not sacrifice that much financially to keep all this afloat. I suspect that many of the deeply rooted believers, the ones on their quiet journey with Christ, the 20% who gave 80% of the church funds, no longer feel they will “curly bulb” the church for the cultural sojourners anymore. They are living their faith out in the LED world.
It all comes down to this, the church is people. Always was, always will be. The Jesus story, the Jesus faith will continue to leak out of people who know it, and quietly live it well, in humility, like it always did. They will touch their children, grandchildren, and any inquisitive neighbor or friend. They will read the Jesus book for its wisdom and truth. Others will not.
Change is not coming, it already long since arrived.
What does all this mean? I don’t have the answers.
But I do know this; being paranoid of greeting people (over or under greeting) is a very sad conversation to be having.
One I will never sit through at any church leadership meeting. Which is why I do not sit with church leadership, and am no longer church leadership. I don’t have the qualifications to be a church marketer. I’m just a reader and teacher of the book.
Church expressions will not be changing, it has already changed. The box kind of church event as we know it will continue, and always will. There is nothing wrong with it. It serves a purpose for many.
However, there is also an underground church, from Catholics to Pentecostals who are gathering outside the box, and the number is huge, and growing. The regular church folks are not aware of the scope. They see signs, and they find things to criticize about some people not doing their kind of thing, as if they are above criticism.
However, most church folks have little idea of the scope of this group. You can not point to them and say they are here or there, they are very liquid as a flow of faith. We are not marketing, advertising, hosting public events. It has been interesting to watch this grow.
Back to my curly bulb thoughts.
I sat on that church step and said to myself,
“Paranoid about saying hello to a new guest? What the hell have we become as a church? This isn’t church. Talk like this isn’t about community.”
Motorcycle church concluded with communion on the abandoned churches steps, and members were dismissed to bike two hours back home.