Thinking Out Loud

June 30, 2018

Knowledge Churches Assume You Have

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:04 am

There’s a place not far from our home where we pick strawberries every year. Our two sons even worked on this farm one summer. Occasionally it’s closed and you have to drive about 3 miles to their other location. That’s what happened on Thursday.

We pulled into the driveway but didn’t see any cars and as it wasn’t my turn to drive, I noticed out the corner of my eye a very small sign directing people to go north another mile and turn left. I remembered this location from the one time we had been there and we found it without difficulty, but this was, after all, our third attempt to get some fresh berries. Further, as we’d already done the majority of our picking for freezing, it meant the single basket we would pick was getting rather expensive vis-a-vis the price of gas.

When we got out of the car and politely told of our journey, the owner was rather indignant. “Everybody knows where we are;” she said. She did confess when we were leaving that a slightly larger sign had blown away — no mention of it being replaced — and had no response when I suggested the possibility that people new to the area might want to pick berries, too.  My wife pointed out that our second stop was in fact the address which appears online. There’s no mention of this one, which she described as “our main location” and the one which is “open every day.”

Sigh!

Do churches do the same thing? I think we do in two different categories.

First, like the fruit and vegetable farm, we assume everybody knows our location, our service times, etc. We can assume that on arrival people know where to park and where to take their kids for the children’s program.

Second, we can assume that people know basic theology. We can get absorbed in ‘shop talk’ or ‘inside baseball’ or even fall into the trap of using “Christianese” which we get but in an increasingly secularized society, few visitors would understand.

Our services can appear visitor-friendly with our neutral auditoriums, comfortable seats, contemporary music and relevant preaching; but when it comes to the actual content were communicating, we can fail to convey our message because for us, the doctrines and narratives we’ve grown up with all our lives have been ubiquitous to the point of being part of our DNA.

Furthermore, if we fail in visitor-friendliness, we are probably also failing to properly educate any children who are sitting in on the adult service.

The cure is to ‘spark it to life’ somehow with both passion and using the gifts Jesus employed such as analogy or parable. This can only happen when we acknowledge –generally, not individually — the spiritual newbies and seekers who may be among us. These teaching methods can actually be helpful to seasoned spiritual veterans, because it may give them some fresh vocabulary with which to engage with their own friends.

If you have any questions, everybody knows how to find me.

Oh, wait… that was the whole point, wasn’t it?

February 6, 2018

First Church of Apathy

Sunday morning began with my wife stirring rather early. She was on worship team and needed to be there, on the platform, ready to sing at 8:00 AM.

It was then my phone went off. I was being called in to check a relay station about 30 minutes from my house. They were getting a warning light, which was probably a faulty sensor. It was usually matter of verifying nothing more serious was happening, and then replacing the sensor module. But the rules stated I couldn’t do this alone, just in case. My partner would be Derek.

Derek was a fairly new Christian with whom I had numerous conversations on jobs, in the truck, and in the lunchroom. I texted him quickly and said there was a church almost next door to the relay station if he was interested, since I wouldn’t make it back on time for our own. He said he was open to the visit.

Rock Heights is a beautiful subdivision. The church has grown quickly and while I wouldn’t call it a megachuch, it’s certainly bigger than where our family attends.

Sure enough, it was a sensor module. We exchanged it, locked the gate and had 5 minutes to make it to the 10:00 AM service. We could see the church parking lot, which was rather small, from the ridge and it was already full, so the plan was to park in a strip mall next door which was mostly tenants who would be closed on Sunday. Other people from the church also parked there.

We arrived and ditched as much of our work clothes as possible, though I regretted not taking different shoes to replace the work boots. When we walked in, I was disappointed to see it was some type of children’s service, and they had roped off a large number of the center rows for the kids to sit. Everything else was full and people were walking in circles trying to figure out where to land. We found some extra chairs that had been set up in a corner, but one of them was really wobbly and they were quite uncomfortable, mostly because the floor sloped at that point and the chairs weren’t made for that.

So we made our way to the balcony. I’d never sat up there before, and you had to look twice to realize it was there, since it was somewhat off center to the main floor. Seating only about 125 people, it looked more like someone had cut a hole in the wall just in case they needed more capacity. It was about half full, which surprised me, given the crush of people downstairs. It had its own speakers, since a lot of sound would be blocked by the wall. Ambient sound from the main level was not to be expected.

And those speakers seemed not to be working. There were announcements, and then a woman did a solo number with piano accompaniment. Even the piano sound didn’t carry into this upper perch. Derek said he couldn’t hear anything. That was obvious. Other people up there started complaining to their seatmates and I’m sure the people on the lower level were aware that some commotion was taking place upstairs.

Nobody seemed to be in charge. I figured we were all visitors, but I’d been here a few times and knew where the audio room was; it was on this level. I would get this fixed faster than you could exchange a relay sensor. The door wasn’t locked and I walked in. Three people working hard. Sound inside was state of the art. One head turned so I quickly said, “We’re not getting any sound in the balcony.”

There was no response. The person simply pointed at some rack mounted sound equipment, and gestured toward one which had been labeled, ‘Not Working.’ Then he shrugged his shoulders and turned away. There was to be no discussion.

How could they not bother fixing it? They knew this would be a busy Sunday with lots of kids and the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles of these same children, some of whom had been sitting the row in front of me.

I went back to the balcony, which was now filled because of the time it took people to find parking and realize there was no seating left. The murmur of complaint had turned to anger. Heck, if I could slip downstairs and place my cell phone next to a speaker, I could send the audio to Derek’s cell phone which had a great speaker. At least someone would hear. Couldn’t they have thought of something like that, or better?

But Derek wasn’t there. A woman turned to me and said, “Your friend wasn’t sure where you went, but he said he’d wait for you in the lobby.”

Another church. Another Sunday. Another overlooked detail. Probably none of the people in the sound room had ever been forced to sit in the balcony. They had no experience of it.

I brought Derek back to my place and we watched a televised service instead and had a good talk afterward. Morning redeemed. In spite of everything. But for me and up to 123 other people who were at Rock Heights Church that Sunday, it was a case of never again.


This object lesson should lead you to think of at least FOUR things this church could have done differently, and probably a few more as well. What comes to mind?

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