Familiarity is both a blessing and a curse for the church. In an unstable and constantly changing world, we want the church to be a constant in our lives. We want to know when we come to worship on Sunday that we’ll do things like say the Lord’s Prayer or greet one another or take communion as a reminder of God’s constant presence in our lives. Through repetition, these practices become a part of our spiritual DNA.
But familiarity can also be an incredible challenge for a church. For example, you know where the Church Office is because you’re been coming to this church for years. You don’t need signs or maps! But what about that mid-week visitor or Sunday guest? What is common and intuitive for us may be foreign for them. We don’t see those obstacles because the church is so familiar to us.
To try and see Crestwood through new eyes, I invited a husband and wife who have visited our church several times to write a “report” on their experience as first-time guests. I was hoping to get an idea of what areas we might need to work on as a congregation in order to become more welcoming. Boy, did I get some ideas! Here’s a summary of their report.
• Arrival: Parking is unclear. We could not see the Crestwood sign until we were at the stop sign, so we had to turn around to park. We were incredibly grateful for the visitor parking though. The Crestwood sign is dark and grown-over with foliage. It’s pretty…just not very practical. Also, the vehicles in the parking lot alerted us right away that this is an affluent congregation.
• Initial Entry: There is no sign to move visitors toward the appropriate Sunday school classes. The sign simply says “Education Wing” and points in the same direction as the nursery. A visitor would not know this is the children’s wing. There should be more colorful, child-friendly signage! And there should be obvious directions to adult Sunday school and the Mission Center.
• Service: We arrived one minute late as many visitors might and completely missed the meet-and-greet. Crestwood members hug the outside of the pews, so we had to excuse ourselves into the middle. That would have been awkward for us had it actually been our first time. On a great note, the lady who handed us bulletins was incredibly friendly and chipper!!! We thoroughly enjoyed the kids’ sermon and were grateful that all the liturgy was written out in the bulletin. The overall feeling of the service, however, was boring. Everyone was very bored-looking. No smiling, no interaction with sermon through note-taking or nodding, no one used their Bibles, etc.
• The communion elements being on the table throughout the service is wonderful. It keeps Christ’s sacrifice central and also alerts visitors to what’s to come. Thank you for always assuring visitors they are welcome to partake! The elders quoted the communion story beautifully and made us feel they viewed the practice with reverence.
So what do you think? Like you, I both agreed and disagreed with various points. But this is enlightening, isn’t it? Let me ask: Is this who we are? Are we enjoying worship? If so, why? If not, why not? If you want to respond, you can visit my blog (revkory.wordpress.com), where this article is posted. How can we make our guests on Sunday feel more welcomed? It’s the responsibility of each and every one of us.