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Saturday, December 08, 2012

Break In

I enjoyed the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books. Humorous stuff. One book had a ship with an invisibility shield called an SEP. The idea was that the ship was so horribly ugly that your brain simply blocked it out. It was Someone Else's Problem -- SEP. I'm going to talk about another SEP situation.

Have you ever considered how difficult it is to break into church? No, I'm not talking about burglary. I'm just talking about getting oneself immersed into a local body of believers. On the face of it, you'd think it would be a snap. But I suspect, if you think about it, this isn't such an easy thing, at least not for many people.

Consider a parallel. You've heard that someone is having an open house. Everyone welcome. So you go on in. When you cross the threshold, you have entered a certain set of parameters. You are not at home. You are in their home. As such, you need to conform to their conditions. What are they? Well, you'll just have to find out. And hopefully you won't find out by transgressing them. You see, when you go into someone else's home, even with an invitation, you are in someone else's home and not your own. And that is the basic problem.

When you go to a new church, you are "invited", if not literally, figuratively. But you are not at home. You are in their home. So, you want to make this your home. How would you go about joining this family? Well, there is first the climate to consider. In any situation you will find a possible range of climates. A black man who goes to a KKK meeting will find the worst case -- a hostile climate. Up from there but certainly not much more comfortable is the indifferent climate. "We don't really care that you're here at all." Not hostile ... but not warm. The next step up would be warmth. In this climate people are friendly enough. They aren't repelling you. You're welcome to be in the same room. There is, however, one more level. That would be inviting. In this final level, people would be seeking you out. They would be asking you to join them, hoping you'll sit with them, working at getting to know you. Clearly this is the ultimate level.

Unfortunately, this is extremely rare in a church. In some churches you'll find a cold climate. They are indifferent to you. You're welcome to be there, but no one is going to give you the time of day. This is extremely common in large churches. If you're going to insinuate yourself into one of those, it will be through massive effort on your part. It can be done, but it's work. Most churches, however, I would likely classify as warm. You're welcome to be there. They will greet you with smiles during the greeting time. Certainly the greeter at the door was friendly enough. One or two might chat with you for a moment before or after the service. "Have I seen you before?" That sort of thing. But finding a church that seeks you out is rare. And that's the problem of breaking in.

You see, you've come into their house. You are the one in unknown territory. You are the one who is from the outside. If they worked at welcoming you, drawing you in, seeking you out, that could be overcome. But it's rare that they do that. So it is on your shoulders to both try to make yourself comfortable in a new situation and seek out people with which to connect among the sea of new faces. It's not easy except, perhaps, for the few genuine extroverts out there.

And it's not a pastor thing. First, pastors are few in a church. They can't do this with everyone. Second, no one would expect them to. It's not the pastor's job to engage with every individual. That would be the job of the congregation. And pastors are not likely capable of so molding a congregation to be outgoing and inviting. They might lead by example, but that only goes so far. The individuals in the church would need to step up to it.

I've never heard a sermon on this. I've never heard a pastor speak about it. And in all the churches that I've visited over my lifetime, I would guess that I could count the number of inviting churches on one hand ... or less. It's an individual thing. What about you? Are you an inviting person in your church? Are you seeking out others with which to connect, to minister, to build up, to be involved with? Or is that SEP -- Someone Else's Problem?

3 comments:

Dan said...

A large church won't even know you're there. You can't and shouldn't expect much in the way of reception at a church that has so many people that a new face is not noticed, I would think. But other than that it is a two way street. Not only is everyone there a stranger to you, you are a stranger to them also. A person ought to hang out for awhile to see if this is a place where they fit. If it is then one must insert himself by being proactive in serving and fellowshipping. Have someone over for dinner. Work in the VBS. Be a brother in arms. Be others focused. The church ought to lay out a welcome mat. But it is up to the individual or family to break through the front door.

Stan said...

It is, then, your task to insert yourself into their church -- to break in.

I'd like to think that those who are there, in their comfort zone, plugged in and part of the local body, serving and fellowshipping already, would be better prepared to draw you in than you would be to force your way in. But, that's dreaming, isn't it?

Dan Trabue said...

Our church often (but not always) does a pretty good job of trying to get people involved and feeling welcomed. I do think being in a smaller church helps, at least that's what we've found.

I DO think churches should expect to see, recognize and make welcome any new faces, which is one of my complaints with big churches.