I am not going to tell you where I go to church, so that you can, possibly, see yourself in this post. I think it is important that you don’t know if I go to a small, or large, or perhaps a medium-sized church. I think if you know what the preaching and the music are like, then you might form an answer to my proposed dilemma before you hear me out. Here’s why:
Last Sunday, while at church with my son and his friend, as we were sitting in the back row, watching hands held high and truly amazing voices lead us in worship, I realized that if were to drop dead right there on the floor, they’d have to look at my wallet to find out who I was. (Yes, I am aware that in my scenario my son was there, but let’s pretend for my argument here, that he is not.)
I’d think your first inclination here would be to ask why I am not more involved so that others would know who I am? That is a good question. Well, missy, or sir, I am involved. I serve in the children’s nursery. I serve in the setting up of the service before anyone else has even had their coffee and the obligatory free donut. I tweet back and forth with the pastor’s wife regularly when I am moved by a section of the sermon and I even recognize some of the other congregants from around town. But, right there, in that moment, in that typical service, all eyes are on the performance at the front and no one has a clue who is standing beside them in the aisle- family excluded.
That bothered me deeply but it didn’t grow into the need for this post until I saw a disparaging difference of ministries. On that same Sunday, I headed down to the local community center to volunteer and low and behold, I was greeted by everyone in the building. They were so genuine with their welcomes and hellos, and, not one person had been assigned to be a greeter in the process. No one here was sent to a training on how to greet a fellow Christian as they came through the door. If I was to drop dead on that linoleum floor, they’d know exactly who to call and they’d be able to tell them my name without looking. Why is it different? I think it is because we view people differently when we view our work as a true mission field. When your work is about growing a group of people who are here to love and serve then we do our very best to make sure they are bonded and known. When the purpose is to create a series of activities and programs, our sight is lost on the agenda. We forget the hearts sitting in the pews.
“we view people differently when we view our work as a true mission field”
This has been my issue with church in America ever since we got back from the mission field. Everything here is prescribed, taught, trained and is a “function” of the service instead of a natural outpouring of love for the others that show up. I love going to church in Germany because there is always a coffee and cake time at the end of the service, it’s just a time to hang out and talk with those who came to service. Plus, I love coffee and baked good so it is truly a win-win. In the middle of the service, people bring “greetings” from the places they’ve traveled to and share prayer requests and praises with the congregation. Yes, it makes the service longer, but everyone knows who is who and where they’ve been and what they need and what they are praying for. Case in point, they know each other. I am part of our church’s prayer ministry. I get daily emails of who needs prayer. I love it. I love taking the needs of others to the altar of our Lord. Sadly, I have no idea who is in this ministry with me. Not a single soul. It is all online- email only. Once again, if I keeled over while reading that Betty-Jo needs prayer for an upcoming bunion removal operation, not a single soul in my church would know. There is something horribly wrong with that.
I am all about this new era a tech. I love having the world at my fingertips but the church cannot get lost in this see of 0000’s and 1111’s. I am convinced that if I stay home and watch my church on TV, I’d have the exact same experience as going to the actual building. I can also pray from my computer as I read the emailed list of needs. I can watch the sermon from my smartphone. I can even worship over the podcast.
Now, to those of you in ministry and the few others of you who still have one of those magical, mystical congregations where people know each other I say two things: thank your God for that, it is not the norm, and maybe, double check that everyone in the place is having that same experience as you. I know that there are some people in our church who fill a room and everyone knows them. I know that if you are on staff, that gives you a pass to being at the center of the service. But, what about those who serve and attend and are doing life right alongside the hundreds of other people in the same church that couldn’t utter my name to save their lives. Nor, could I, their’s.
Church leaders, I challenge you to stop the service for an entire five minutes (scandalous, I know) and let the people in the rows just talk to one another. Give them a question prompt or a funny sentence to finish when meeting new people. Let them get to know who they attend church with, every single Sunday.
Truth is, I don’t know many pastors out there that are willing to let the clock run on such an endeavor. I served in leadership and planning in plenty of stateside churches and I know that the idea of releasing the reigns is so ridiculously, preposterously scary for most preachers that what I am suggesting deserves a good old fashion burning at the stake for heresy.
Folks, we have lost touch with what worship is about. It is a time to focus on God and then in that natural outpouring of love and gratitude, we should turn to one another and share. Share our love, conversation, greetings, encouragement, hugs, handshakes, smiles and more. When no one knows the person next to them, it is impossible to do any of that. I seriously doubt that in the early church, they went into evening worship sessions in secreted homes and didn’t know the name of the brother or sister next to them.
So that’s it, then? You just throw up your hands and walk away?
No, probably not. I am a trooper and I will most likely find myself back in the same halls, serving and worshiping and trying to find a way to connect on a deeper level. I am not the type to give up. Though, I know that I will be disillusioned and probably feel that way until every activity that takes place on church grounds is not filled with planned activities and agendas and presentations. Sometimes, people just need space to grow in. In advertising, we are told, “don’t be afraid of the white space.” That means, sometimes you just let the story tell itself and not every inch of the space needs to be filled. In counseling, we are taught not be afraid of the silence. Sometimes, people need some fresh air and space filled with their own actions.
Maybe, in church, we need to go back to our roots and let the story of the congregation unfold? Maybe, we could let the people that are dedicated to the tithing and the serving and the giving be a part of the story as more than just attendees in the well-oiled presentation? Maybe, as leaders, let go of the reigns and leave the stage long enough to do more than shake people’s hands as they come in and leave the service? And maybe, just maybe, we can get rid of the greeter’s ministry altogether. What do you say to building up the natural response to what one should feel when another believer, or better yet a seeker, walks through the front door, or sits her and her family in the back row?
I say, let’s take a moment and see who they are, and let them do the same.