I indulged today and instead of my spartan lunch of tuna on rye bread I splashed out and headed off to my nearest Subway. The lady in front of me was a pensioner, and it was her first visit to Subway. She seemed confused by the choice of sandwhich and the rapid fire questions being asked in sequence by the ‘sandwich artist’. Fear and confusion got the better of her and she pulled out of the queue. I tried to coax her back in by giving her a brief lesson by pointing out the sequence as displayed on the counter. It still seemed too overwhelming so she opted to stand back and observe the sequence and decode the language of ordering. When the queue cleared she ventured back to the counter and began her first ever faltering Subway purchase experience. I’m not sure if she’ll be back. I will be, cos I know the lingo and can repeat the drill in my sleep. I wonder if this his how people encounter the church?
Every community, organisation, club, people network, etc has developed language and customs all of its own which newcomers need to negotiate. In our running club we have a tradition that we touch the sign at the end of our workout, the punishment for not touching the sign is doing the workout again. All newcomers on their first day are taught the sacred tradition of the sign and each new runner becomes a fierce guardian of the tradition. Newcomers don’t seem to mind. They would mind if they weren’t told about it though and had to suffer the consequences.
I have no problem with the fact that each new entity we associate with has its unique traditions, history, language, etc. I do mind when the key things that need to be learned in order to function within this new entity are not spelled out to newcomers, leaving them confused. The primary issue is not necessarily the existence of unique customs, languages, processes, etc, but whether they are communicated clearly, and whether people are helped to learn how to operate within the environment.
There are a few ways in which good churches have overcome these hurdles which I have admired:
It seems fairly elementary doesn’t it? However, it is VERY common for churches to have inadequate signage to help new people navigate their way around the building. Something as simple as finding the main entrance or the toilets is often difficult because our buildings are set up for those who are already a part of us. A church with an outreaching posture invests in good signage.
I’ve often been impressed by some churches who always assume a large percentage of visitors and thus take pains to communicate clearly either where things are, what things are, or why certain things are done in the way that they are. This helps answer the obvious questions that arise at each junction of the service in the mind of a newcomer. If it is assumed that the only people present are ‘part of the furniture’, it shows in the language. A church with an outreaching posture invests in good communication.
Good churches I’ve been in have a super-aware congregation who actively look for ‘lost’ or confused people and help them to understand what is going on or where they need to go to. “Can I help you?” is one of the most important phrases Christians can be taught. Ask it often, ask it liberally. A church with an outreaching posture has good awareness.
An Actual Subway Church
There is a church with a Subway franchise in it! Click on the picture below for more info.