HEY! HEY YOU GUYS!!!!
Yours Truly has been looking at multiple church websites in the past weeks looking for Advent services and programs, and for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Please go right now and do a website audit!!! People like me are actually looking for your church! Go RIGHT NOW and check if your church website has the following:
Your actual physical location, including a street address I can plug into my GPS. You’d be amazed how many churches think it’s enough to announce themselves as the Central Congregational Church and don’t even tell me what STATE you’re in, let alone the city. SOME OF US TRAVEL A LOT. Be clear and explicit.
Clear, obvious information about your SUNDAY services on the front page. Yes, it’s great that you promoted your Christmas Eve services, but I had to click through with a magnifying glass in hand to figure out what was happening on December 22 or December 29th. Don’t make seekers do that.
Information about parking. Where can I park? Tell me right on the website! Last Sunday I stupidly parked in the church driveway and got blocked in by oher cars. It would also be welcoming to know what door I should enter through. How many of you serve as pastors in buildings where many of the exterior doors of your big ole buildings are locked? It’s a miserable physical and emotional experience walking around a church trying doors, especially when it’s cold out.
I recently walked into the foyer of a church and stood there for a good two or three minutes being aggressively ignored by the ushers/greeters. Of course I am perfectly capable of asking for an order of service and seating myself, but I wanted to see how long it might take before they paid attention to the newcomer in their midst. After the few minutes, I took a couple of steps closer to the chatters. I didn’t exactly clear my throat but let’s just say that I looked expectant. One of the women looked me up and down like I was an errant cockroach and said “YOU LOOK LOST.”
That may be the single most terrible thing I have ever heard a church greeter say, and I have heard a lot of off-putting “welcomes” (ex. “Is your husband joining you?” and “Are you here with your family?” — to which I responded, “The Christian community is my family,” which flummoxed that Nice White Lady pretty thoroughly). I responded to this woman with a plastic smile, “I’m standing in a church foyer ten minutes before your worship service. I am a visitor to your church and have clearly come to worship with you. No, I am not lost. Perhaps you could just say ‘good morning’ and give me a program?”
I get bitchy because one rude person can undo the work of an entire community with an unkind comment that may turn away an anxious newcomer. How do we not realize in this day and age that the act of walking thorugh the doors of a house of worship for the first time is a risk, an act of courage borne of deep spiritual yearning or other serious need? Ushers, greeters, clergy, and the community need to remember this at all times and hold it before us as our commission: acknowledge those brave souls with a kind word!
Maybe the woman greeting that morning who stared me square in the face and said, “You look lost” and later stood at the Communion rail literally scowling at those queuing up for Communion and not offering a whispered word of instruction to this confused visitor has poor social skills or is neurodivergent. Whatever the case, she is almost certainly at least capable of not insulting or neglecting visitors. You, the Minister, must break the dysfunctional family system that too often indulges silence around this kind of issue in the name of Christian love and acceptance. It is not loving to leave someone in a position of offering hospitality on behalf of the church who has not been nurtured and trained to do a good job in the role. Not everyone is a natural! Greeting and ushering and offering hospitality can also be awkward, scary and challenging for good folks. Help them do their best. Do not neglect this pastoral obligation.
Happy ending, though: a lovely, smiling and relaxed church member helped me to know where to stand during Communion, lots of people passed me the peace, and later, a teenaged girl who was wearing Crocs under her choir robe spotted me in the corridor to the restroom made direct, friendly eye contact with me and said with utter sincerity, “Hi, I hope we’ll see you on Christmas Eve!”
Because of that invitation and the other beauty I experienced in this church, I will be attending their 4PM Christmas Eve service tonight.
Now, sugar plums, go check that website, Twitter feed and Facebook page. Make sure you leave no detail out. Tell them about the time, the place, the door, the accessibility, the accomodation for children and infants (Are they actually welcome, merely tolerated, scowled at? Is there a nursery?) and also please don’t fail to include information about December 29th. You may not be preaching and it might be a “low Sunday,” but worshipers need to know what’s going on through all of Christmas, which is not one day.
Also, KEEP BREATHING!
Mwah, kiss of peace.