Tonight my wife and I got a little bit dressed up (I wore my best Hawaiian shirt and tennis shoes with some new jeans) and went over to the Carnegie Visual Arts Center in Decatur. This is kind of like an earring in a sow’s ear in a lot of ways and my being there is probably like finding a piece of coal in a bag of diamonds. But my mom had a piece on exhibit there. She is a porcelain painter (or china painter) and I wanted to support what she’s doing.
I don’t know a lot about art. I had some Led Zeppelin posters when I was a teenager – if that counts. Anyway, we roll up to the art center and go inside. I’ve never been before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. There were probably 50 people in the place (it might be 1500 square feet – in an old historic house). They were serving drinks and Hors D’oeurves and people were chatting up a storm. It was deafeningly loud. And there was art everywhere.
It seemed like everyone knew someone and the conversation was lively. No one acknowledged our presence, welcomed us, offered to give us a tour or any refreshments. I guess they assumed we knew what to do. We really didn’t know the layout of the place but it was small and I quickly started moving from room to room hoping to find my family somewhere. We looked in each room where people were milling around and chatting – every time we entered a different room I felt like I was being stared at. It seemed obvious that I was an outsider – at least to me.
We never found mom or dad – but we did find her painting (above) and my Nephew’s pastel of George Washington.
After we located the paintings, and determined we did not know anyone – we went to the area where they were serving refreshments. Several people were grazing some nice looking stuff but when I tried to get a plate no one moved and I sort of felt in the way. All the people simply stood there chomping on fancy finger food like cows chewing cud and talking about whatever art people talk about at these gatherings.
Finally we had enough of feeling out of place and made our way to the door. Outside several people had gathered on the steps and were blocking our exit – but we navigated our way down awkwardly as they glanced at us. Perhaps they were wondering – weren’t those the people who just came? Or maybe they noticed my shirt didn’t really go with my shoes.
We were there a total of 5 minutes and it was the most uncomfortable 5 minutes I have spent in a long time.
This is the way most guests at your church feel. They feel like the outsider, like they don’t speak the lingo, and like they don’t know anybody or understand what is expected of them or what is supposed to happen. It is our job as Christians to make sure that guests are welcomed in a way that makes them feel comfortable. That might look different in different churches but it never includes making them feel like outsiders, or like they don’t belong, or ignoring them assuming they will find a place to fit in.
Whatever your church and cultural context, remember that you have ONE shot to make an impression on your next first time guest – and you WANT them to come back. Whatever it takes – you as a church member, pastor, whatever have to have that in mind EVERY SINGLE SUNDAY!