Thinking Out Loud

March 17, 2018

Church Directories Build Community

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came

~Theme from Cheers TV-Show

It was a heated congregational meeting that had been called nearly twenty years ago to address the implications of the rapidly growing church going to a two service format on Sunday mornings. The usual pros and cons were being kicked around when a woman at the back stood up and voiced an issue I hadn’t foreseen; “But we won’t all know each other.”

I never thought of that.

This was a church where, heretofore, everybody knew who everybody was. The kind of thing you expect in a rural church environment. Suddenly, that was about to change, and there was apprehension, if not plain fear about the implications of going to church on Sunday morning and not being in command of the first and last names of all the people in the auditorium.

# # #

Some churches have always resolved the identification issue by having a bulletin board at the back with photos of “Our Church Family.” A local church in our area raised the quality standard on this a few years back. When the professional company doing their photo directory was done, the church was presented with a couple of beautiful, framed wall prints showing everyone’s directory photo and name alphabetically. I’m sure it is often referred to, given that church’s size.

Another option is name tags. Besides the risk of the pin-type tearing clothing — many churches opt for the lanyard type — I’ve always felt it reminiscent of the “elder” name tags worn by the Mormon (LDS) missionaries who come knocking at your front door at inopportune times. But some churches thrive on this system, with visitors quickly assigned a quickly-scribbled Sharpie version which, I’m quite sure, would make seeker-friendly advocates like Bill Hybels shudder in horror; although it beats asking visitors to stand up and give their names, a practice I sincerely hope has disappeared by now.

It also raises an issue I don’t have space to get into here: The artificiality of the “turn around shake hands” type of forced fellowship. Or name tags themselves. If you click the image on the name tag at right, it will take you to a blog post on that subject.

Then there are various types of mixers including Newcomers Lunch, where established church leaders get to know recent arrivals; or the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” events where, each quarter, people alternate between being a “host” or being a “guest” at a mystery house with mystery guests. (You can even heat things up by sending the charismatic-leaning, Arminian Smith family over for lunch with the conservative Calvinist Jones family; but who gets the Adams family with their ten children?)

Of course, the organic approach to getting to know people is small groups. You won’t know everyone, but you’ll build deep relationships and strong community with the others in your group. And possibly at that point, knowing everyone’s name won’t be so high a priority.

Which brings us to church directories.

# # #

When my oldest son was about six I showed him an entry in our church’s directory where one couple’s name was listed, but there was no address or phone number. It was easy to see why if you knew that he worked for the RCMP. (U.S. readers: Think FBI.) So I asked him, “Why do you think they don’t have an address?”

His answer was; “They’re homeless.”

I then explained the nature of his job, and the notion of privacy. There are other examples I can think of where families have chosen to opt-out completely from even having their names listed, but in most small and medium-sized churches, a church telephone directory is still considered useful, even though some online people haven’t picked up a phone handset in years; so most people participate.

Directories easily fit into the collection of things listed above (name tags, photo boards, etc.) but offer something else: A means to get in touch, or stay in touch with other people in your church throughout the week. You can call the kid’s teacher to see if he left his Bible in the classroom, ask the worship leader’s wife for the title of the book she mentioned in the lobby, and e-mail the woman who said she had a great recipe for carrot cake. You can see where people live, and the names of their children.

I am convinced that these directories — with or without photos — are in another category altogether, and sincerely believe that, where feasible, every church should have one.

Especially in an age of e-mail.

I know there will be pushback on this — some people will not want their e-mail address published — but I am convinced that we live in an electronic world where not having e-mail is like buying a house and taking down the mailbox. I believe there is potential for abuse, but it is outweighed by the contact that can take place between church family members.

As a business owner who does a monthly e-mail newsletter, I’m always tempted to steal e-mail addresses from directories, but we’ve learned over time that we’re better off initiating contact some other way before pursuing electronic communication. However, one local church meets this problem halfway by giving business owners a back page to list their name, the name of their business, the nature of their business, and business phone and e-mail information.

That same church also has a strong push for people to submit photos. They produce their own directory, and so there isn’t the hesitation associated with commercial photographers trying to sell families additional prints and print packages at inflated prices.

In an environmentally-conscious world, some churches have put their church directory online. A login is necessary so that only members and adherents can access the information, though the same login allows those listed to update their own data.

At the other end of the spectrum, in another church that we are actively involved with, the directory is simply a list of names and phone numbers. No indication of where people live or if they drive a great distance for worship. No opportunity to send an e-mail; which really grates on my wife and I, who use online communication extensively.

The other major liability of their system is that children under eighteen are not listed at all. I’m not sure I can even begin to grasp what kind of message that sends to, for example, the teens in the youth group. (“You’re not really part of our church family.”) It’s an oddity that sticks out all the more if your kids are accustomed to seeing their names in such a publication. The church in question doesn’t really have a large number of children. Coincidence?

# # #

Send me a postcard, drop me a line, stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say…

~Lyrics from the Beatles, “When I’m 64”

# # #

In a world where privacy concerns dominate so many discussions, and insurance companies advise churches against anything with the faintest hint of liability, the idea of a church directory may seem like a throwback to a bygone era; however this writer is sold on them. I even keep a few old ones now and then as a sort of yearbook of memories of what the church family looked like in the past. Once in awhile, I discover someone in the church family who only lives a few blocks away, or someone who lives next door to someone with whom I’ve recently shared my faith journey.

I also remain absolutely convinced that creating e-mail community is absolutely essential, especially as various factors seem to add to the isolation people experience. Your church may prefer to do this through Facebook community; but do update the thing now and then, okay? Computer contact is not the same as face-time, but it’s better than nothing. And those with hesitation can always choose to opt-out of listing their online address, but I find that most choose to share their full contact information.

Also, I cannot minimize the role that both standard telephone contact and e-mail contact can play when someone in the church faces an urgent need for prayer.

# # #

If we’re a family, then family members talk to each other, right?

And church isn’t just something we do on Sunday.

# # #

This 2011 piece was included today as a part two to a more recent discussion we had on this topic yesterday.

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March 28, 2011

Building Community Through Church Directories

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came

~Theme from Cheers TV-Show

It was a heated congregational meeting that had been called nearly twenty years ago to address the implications of the rapidly growing church going to a two service format on Sunday mornings.  The usual pros and cons were being kicked around when a woman at the back stood up and voiced an issue I hadn’t foreseen; “But we won’t all know each other.”

I never thought of that.

This was a church where, heretofore, everybody knew who everybody was.  The kind of thing you expect in a rural church environment.  Suddenly, that was about to change, and there was apprehension if not plain fear about the implications of going to church on Sunday morning and not being in command of the first and last names of all the people in the auditorium.

# # #

Some churches have always resolved the identification issue by having a bulletin board at the back with photos of “Our Church Family.”  A local church in our area raised the quality standard on this a few years back.  When the professional company doing their photo directory was done, the church was presented with a couple of beautiful, framed wall prints showing everyone’s directory photo and name alphabetically.  I’m sure it is often referred to, given that church’s size.

Another option is name tags.  Besides the risk of the pin-type tearing clothing — many churches opt for the lanyard type —  I’ve always felt it reminiscent of the “elder” name tags worn by the Mormon (LDS) missionaries who come knocking at your front door at inopportune times.  But some churches thrive on this system, with visitors quickly assigned a quickly-scribbled Sharpie version which, I’m quite sure, would make seeker-friendly advocates like Bill Hybels shudder in horror; although it beats asking visitors to stand up and give their names, a practice I sincerely hope has disappeared by now.

It also raises an issue I don’t have space to get into here:  The artificiality of the “turn around shake hands” type of forced fellowship.  Or name tags themselves.  If you click the image on the name tag at right, it will take you to a blog post on that subject.

Then there are various types of mixers including Newcomers Lunch, where established church leaders get to know recent arrivals; or the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” events where, each quarter, people alternate between being a “host” or being a “guest” at a mystery house with mystery guests.  (You can even heat things up by sending the charismatic-leaning, Arminian Smith family over for lunch with the conservative Calvinist Jones family; but who gets the Black family with their ten children?)

Of course, the organic approach to getting to know people is small groups.  You won’t know everyone, but you’ll build deep relationships and strong community with the others in your group.   And possibly at that point, knowing everyone’s name won’t be so high a priority.

Which brings us to church directories.

# # #

When my oldest son was about six I showed him an entry in our church’s directory where one couple’s name was listed, but there was no address or phone number.  It was easy to see why if you knew that he worked for the RCMP.  (U.S. readers: Think FBI.)  So I asked him, “Why do you think they don’t have an address?”

His answer was; “They’re homeless.”

I then explained the nature of his job, and the notion of privacy.  There are other examples I can think of where families have chosen to opt-out completely from even having their names listed, but in most small and medium-sized churches, a church telephone directory is still considered useful, even though some online people haven’t picked up a phone handset in years; so most people participate.

Directories easily fit into the collection of things listed above (name tags, photo boards, etc.) but offer something else: A means to get in touch, or stay in touch with other people in your church throughout the week.  You can call the kid’s teacher to see if he left his Bible in the classroom, ask the worship leader’s wife for the title of the book she mentioned in the lobby, and e-mail the woman who said she had a great recipe for carrot cake.  You can see where people live, and the names of their children.

I am convinced that these directories — with or without photos — are in another category altogether, and sincerely believe that, where feasible, every church should have one.

Especially in an age of e-mail.

I know there will be pushback on this — some people will not want their e-mail address published — but I am convinced that we live in an electronic world where not having e-mail is like buying a house and taking down the mailbox.  I believe there is potential for abuse, but it is outweighed by the contact that can take place between church family members.

As a business owner who does a monthly e-mail newsletter, I’m always tempted to steal e-mail addresses from directories, but we’ve learned over time that we’re better off initiating contact some other way before pursuing electronic communication.  However, one local church meets this problem halfway by giving business owners a back page to list their name, the name of their business, the nature of their business, and business phone and e-mail information.

That same church also has a strong push for people to submit photos.  They produce their own directory, and so there isn’t the hesitation associated with commercial photographers trying to sell families additional prints and print packages.

In an environmentally-conscious world, some churches have put their church directory online.  A login is necessary so that only members and adherents can access the information, though the same login allows those listed to update their own data.

At the other end of the spectrum, in another church that we are actively involved with, the directory is simply a list of names and phone numbers.  No indication of where people live or if they drive a great distance for worship.  No opportunity to send an e-mail; which really grates on my wife and I, who use online communication extensively.

The other major liability of that system is that children under eighteen are not listed at all.  I’m not sure I can even begin to grasp what kind of message that sends to, for example, the teens in the youth group.  (“You’re not really part of our church family.”)  It’s an oddity that sticks out all the more if your kids are accustomed to seeing their names in such a publication.  The church in question doesn’t really have a large number of children.  Coincidence?

# # #

Send me a postcard, drop me a line, stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say…

~Lyrics from the Beatles, “When I’m 64”

In a world where privacy concerns dominate so many discussions, and insurance companies advise churches against anything with the faintest hint of liability, the idea of a church directory may seem like a throwback to a bygone era; however this writer is sold on them.  I even keep a few old ones now and then as a sort of yearbook of memories of what the church family looked like in the past. Once in awhile, I discover someone in the church family who only lives a few blocks away, or someone who lives next door to someone with whom I’ve recently shared my faith journey.

I also remain absolutely convinced that creating e-mail community is absolutely essential, especially as various factors seem to add to the isolation people experience.  Your church may prefer to do this through Facebook community; but do update the thing now and then, okay?  Computer contact is not the same as face-time, but it’s better than nothing.  And those with hesitation can always choose to opt-out of listing their online address, but I find that most choose to share their full contact information.

Also, I cannot minimize the role that both standard telephone contact and e-mail contact can play when someone in the church faces an urgent need for prayer.

# # #

If we’re a family, then family members talk to each other, right?

And church isn’t just something we do on Sunday.

November 14, 2010

Church Fellowship: The Cheers Factor

Filed under: Church, family — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:18 pm

I am having a weird 24 hours.

Yesterday, for an hour mid-afternoon, I attended the 50th anniversary of my high school.   It was a large school and 50 years is a long time, so the traffic a mess as was the parking.    I brought along my trophy wife with the intention of showing her off, but she couldn’t handle the crowds or the heat.   (With 50 years of anecdotal history, the janitors still cannot anticipate the weather, and the HVAC system was pumping out record amounts of unnecessary warmth.)

I guess the shocker of the day was that everybody seemed genuinely glad to see me.   At least that was my impression.   Maybe time heals all wounds, though I couldn’t actually think of any wounds that needed healing.

Looking back, I think what was striking me was the contrast between this and the reaction I often get at some churches.   There seems to be an awkward feeling waiting to be experienced when you enter certain houses of worship.

I’m not alone in this.  My wife and I have compared notes.  I’ve also heard it from others, including the couple that simply stood against a wall during one church’s protracted fellowship and coffee time in the lobby, just to see if anyone would speak to them.   Nobody did.

Maybe our ideals are too… well… idealistic.   Perhaps they’ve been shaped by a mis-reading of the New Testament that left us with the warped impression that the church should consist of brothers and sisters who demonstrate their desire to follow Christ by a love for each other.   John’s gospel and epistles are notable for spreading that particular suggestion.

Or perhaps it is because some people who come to church also go to bars, and recognize that there is more genuine fellowship in the average pub than there is in many of our churches.

I blame Cheers.  Or more accurately, its theme song:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.

Those words are, like, scripture to me.   It’s a picture of the Body of Christ in its ideal and intended form.   A place of welcome, commonality, and, though not explicit in the lyrics, grace.

That’s the what of Cheers, the first verse is actually the why of Cheers:

Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you’ve got;
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sadly, the rest of the lyrics, aren’t quite so inspirational.  (See the comments section.)

Still it’s good to feel wanted.   Someone once said that “home is the place that, when you go there, they have to take you in.”   Church should be like a home.   Someone else said, “You can pick your friends, but you can’t choose your family.”  Church should be like a family, where acceptance isn’t dependent on personal preferences.

Today I experienced some of that family and home feeling.   I know some of you are too jaded to make the effort.   I would urge you to keep trying.

And here’s some additional wisdom:  If you’re doing Sunday morning church but not journeying with some people in a small group; may I suggest that you not do the mega (or large) church thing.  Seriously.   If mid-week, house-based groups are an impossibility right now, keep your Sunday thing small and manageable with people you can get to know.

It may not have a superstar preacher or a studio-quality worship band, but hopefully you’ll get closer to authentic relationships with fellow pilgrims.

August 29, 2010

Sunday Seriousness

This morning we visited the Pentecostal church in our community.  The week before it was a Catholic church.   Two weeks ago we attended the Christian Reformed Church.

We know people in all these churches.   I could walk up and down each aisle and probably get about half the names right in most of our area churches, including the much larger Baptist church.    Part of it is that through my vocation, I get to interact with the larger Body of Christ.   So I feel that these people are family; I never really feel like a visitor.

But this morning I realized that in truth, these people are extended family.   Each particular congregation has its own personality, and the people with whom I feel most comfortable, the people who perhaps I most identify with, the people who I really want to spend a lot of time with; all those people are at another church, the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church.

The local Alliance church represents family as well, but nuclear family, not extended.   True brothers and sisters about whom I have written before, “We are invested in their lives, and they are invested in ours.”   A place where — as one person defined home: “when you go there they have to take you in.”   (More on that here.)(And here.)

Except for one or two people.

Maybe your family is like this.   A sibling or a parent with whom you just don’t see eye-to-eye and probably never will.   They kinda ruin it for you.  You go away but then you come back.   Maybe you’ve been abused physically or emotionally; but it’s home and damn it (your words, not mine!) you’re going to keep staking your claim.

Some people either don’t realize the damage they’re doing to other people, or they do realize it, and they revel in it.

Which is why we find ourselves in forced exile again.   It hurts my wife too much to go back; it hurts me too much to be away.   (An actual role reversal of how it’s been at previous times; they manage to get to us equally in different ways at different times.)

I met Mark several years ago.   He attended a similar church briefly and thought it would be the ideal spiritual environment for his two teenage sons.   He got involved himself in a midweek program, and, being a guy who has so much to give any local assembly, decided after a couple of weeks  to help stack the chairs when the meeting had ended.

“No, no;” someone quickly grabbed his arm; “That’s not how we do this.   We have an after-school program here and for insurance reasons we can only stack the chairs four chairs high.”

A little nuance  that had been lost on Mark.   But then they added, “Why don’t you just leave this job to someone else.”

Ouch.   A little over-the-top isn’t it?

Mark thought so.   He was a sensitive guy and that was a totally insensitive remark from someone in a respected leadership position.   He started to rethink the whole thing and decided to keep shopping for a church home.   He found one where the leadership team was a little less — for lack of a better term — anal; and where he could use his various gifts and desire to serve.

End of story, right?   Everybody wins, right?

Not exactly.   The new church didn’t have the same youth program for his teenage sons, and while nobody is blaming anybody, the lack of such a program may have contributed to where the boys are right now, which is not a very good place.

The similarities between Mark’s story and our story are huge.   Same kind of people.   Same pathetic mentality.

…I think it was Andy Stanley who said that “nobody has ever been hurt by a church; rather it’s people in the church who hurt people.”

Andy is right.

But sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

Can’t wait to see where we go to church next week.

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