On my bike, I was golden. I lived at the top of a hill, and the local convenience store was at the bottom. Got some good speed flying down that hill.
One year, some of my friends got skateboards. Eventually, I got a skateboard. I rode it from time to time. Never tried many tricks, but was able to get around my driveway ok.
One day I was feeling particularly bold, and I tried to hang ten down my hill. I stepped on the tail, kicked the front of the board into the air, put my front foot on, and proceeded to force the front down to enlist gravity’s propulsive aid. The board launched out from under me and I caboose-planted on the pavement. My skating days were at an end.
Was I on my way to a career on the X-Games circuit? Probably not. But I probably missed out on some fun times with my friends. I gave up after one bad experience.
A similar thing happened one day as my friends and I were playing catch in my backyard. I was never a huge baseball fan, but many of my friends were, so I played along. I even collected baseball cards of players I had never seen on a field before and only knew from their bubblegum-scented picture.
One day, a pop fly came my way. I hoisted my mitt into the air. The ball landed, rolled down the inside of the glove, and hit me straight in the face. My golden glove was forever tarnished.
What can we learn from these examples (aside from the fact that I was a childhood quitter and a wuss)?
How many people caboose-plant their way out of church? How often do visitors to our churches take a proverbial ball to the face? A bad experience, a moment of inattention, a misguided process… Our guests take a risk, get a little bruised, and flee.
I think that those of us in “church world” (as Andy Stanley calls it) forget what it is like to visit a church for the first time. It is a risk. Our guests are going to encounter an unfamiliar situation, strange facilities, different procedures (rituals, if we aren’t careful), and, in many cases, they are bringing with them a certain degree of skepticism and trepidation.
I read a wonderful article recently from Relevant Magazine. It was written by Mentanna Campbell, a former missionary that returned to the USA and began looking for a church. It’s a great read. It is a reminder that guests within our walls need to feel welcome. Our processes, volunteers, facilities, hospitality… everything our guests utilize and need during their visit need to have one common goal: enabling our local church to minister to lost souls, proclaiming the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with clarity and without obstruction.
My church is in the middle of a series of remodeling projects. When asked, I make sure that our people understand that we are not making improvements just for the looks, or the vibe, or to be “new.” We are upgrading our facilities so that we are better able to serve those who come through our doors. We are making our space more accessible and multi-purpose so that everyone is able to feel at home.
Our guests have taken the time to visit our churches, and have gone out on a limb with a new fellowship of believers. We need to do everything we can to enable them to worship with us and to disable any potential caboose-planting, nose-bashing entanglements. Shake their hands, make sure they know where they are going, help them get their children situated, find them a seat, answer their questions… they are worth the effort.