Last week Wendy and I visited another church. It was the same thing we have experienced dozens of times before.
We arrived about 10 minutes before the stated service time. The parking lot was mostly empty. If we hadn’t had known better we probably would have driven away thinking we had the wrong time.
We entered the back non-descript door. It looked like we were entering the backstage door and not the entrance for the parishioners. But again we knew better; this wasn’t new. Really, think about that. Big solid steel door. No sign to tell us we were allowed in. You would expect a “No Admittance” sign over such a door.
We were handed “the coupons for the day” from the “WalMart greeter” who said a pleasant “Good morning.” One other man gave us a strange look like we were perhaps unqualified to enter for some reason. He also said, “Hello.” But if we didn’t know better we would have thought we were intruders. He was probably actually trying to measure if he had seen us before.
We walked in slowly to the almost empty “house.” Wendy hesitated not knowing which way to go. I gently encouraged her to keep moving forward where we entered the auditorium from the front. I was glad we weren’t late. There were maybe 400 seats in the pews. But only the “wood” family was in there. By now there was about 5 minutes to showtime. But we couldn’t slink down in the empty theatre seats because there was no place to slink nor theatre seat to slink in. We were out there for all to see in the cold open. But we had been there before.
Apart from one perfunctory “Good morning” from the single man who sat in front of us with his wood family relatives, we were totally ignored.*
The meeting was good. It would have been a fairly short movie at 1 hour and 30 minutes. And again, we knew what was coming before they started. Music we didn’t know that we were supposed to sing — over and over umpteen times. Some others got dreamy eyes and swayed back and forth to the music with their hands in the air. They didn’t get the memo about sticking out like sore thumbs in that particular crowd. But again not an unusual sight to us because we had been in the same context before. However, the place was comfortably full by about 10 minutes after the start time with over 250 participants so that gave us some cover and comfort as newcomers. And they did sing nicely. But did I mention the over and over part? I noticed that I wasn’t the only one getting bored. But my dreamy friends (eerr not friends) were still into it.
When the meeting was done we slowly retraced our steps to the car. Nobody talked to us. But then in a theatre people dutifully file out without talking to others, don’t they? However, everyone else seemed to know everyone else and they were having a good time chatting it up. But we were clearly not part of the circle of friends. One couldn’t even guess how to break in so any normal person would just walk out.
We made it back to the car without one conversation. If we had been looking for a church that was friendly we would cross that one off the list and move on. After all, there isn’t much point in returning to a place where you are invisible.
Some reading this will breathe a sigh of relief that this isn’t their church. But I will tell you that it is just like yours, in all likelihood. Take a Sunday and pick a random church of like faith and try it yourself. Better yet ask a friend to visit your church incognito and ask what they see.
We can help you with that problem because that is what we have learned to do. And the lessons were hard to learn because we didn’t know what we didn’t know at the first either.