From the Pastor…
When I first moved to North Carolina there were a myriad of fast food restaurants (like there are on State St.) not far from my new church. One day I decided to stop at Chick-fil-A, a fast-food chicken restaurant along the commercial strip. I had never heard of that restaurant chain and decided to try it out. I expected it to be like any other fast-food place, but I was surprised by a number of small, yet significant things. There was drizzling rain that day, and I was preparing to make a mad dash from my car to the door, when I was startled by a young man who worked there. He was at my window with an umbrella and offered to escort me into the restaurant. When I went inside I was struck by how clean and organized it was. The menus were easy to read and the crew were very polite, complete with smiles. Even the young women mopping the floor and cleaning tables was polite without being overbearing. Everyone was welcomed in the same manner, no matter how old they were or how they were dressed. They had a magazine rack that included newspapers. It was an honor system where you could take a magazine or newspaper while you ate and then put it back when you left. One day I was standing in front of the rack and the manager asked if he could help me. I responded that I was looking for the local newspaper, but someone must have borrowed it. He then said, “let me get one for you.” I assumed he was going into the back office to get an extra one. But instead, he went outside to the newspaper stand, took some coins out of his pocket and bought a paper for me! Later I heard that the founder of Chick-fil-A was a Christian, and believe it or not the restaurant was about the only restaurant or store that was closed on Sundays. As you can guess, I ate there regularly, and it didn’t take them long to know my name, and even what I tended to order. I have always felt uncomfortable with churches using a more “product/consumer” model, but there are some things that we can learn from them. Today more and more people are unchurched and grow up with the stereotype that all churches are the same, are judgmental and they don’t know what happens behind those walls. It’s been my experience and the experience of other pastors that many people visiting for the first time are not as concerned about theology, doctrine, the pastor, or even the location.
Healthy churches have studied their constituents, identified their needs, listened to their concerns, and anticipated their evolving interests. Having studied, they act. Greeters are warm, music is rewarding, preaching is relevant, liturgy has no secret meaning or handshake, activities are pertinent, restrooms are visible and clean, information is readily available. People are ready to share their pews and bulletins, etc. Unhealthy churches do the opposite, thinking of themselves more as a religious club. Outsiders must conform to their ways and traditions. They focus on church, not life. Activities seem out-of-touch or outdated, secrecy and gossip abound, and any change is an affront. People aren’t stupid. They get the message and so they go elsewhere.
“For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the sojourner be before the Lord. One law and one ordinance shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you.” (Numbers 15:14-16)
Sojourning with you,
Pastor Gary Nelson