Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hello my name is Joel and it is my first time

While on vacation I attended my sister-in-law Michele's church in Athens GA. I was reminded of how terrible that it is visiting church for the first time. Now, don't take anything I say as a commentary on this particular church. My only goal here is to think through what it is like for our first timers. I often try to put myself in the shoes of our guests, and we go overboard trying to best handle our guests. However, there is no better way to put on the shoes of a guest than actually being a guest. So here goes...

1. I got there early... much time to find the back row, but also stood out. In hindsight, I would have wanted to come late and leave early.

2. The people were friendly, and the pastors shook my hands and talked to me. I know that if it had not happened I would have been bothered, but even that made me feel uncomfortable.

3. Interviews - I hate job interviews, and small talk can really turn into one if it goes to long. One thing that I will take away is to not grill the guests on where they are from and what they are doing in town. I have a tendency to do that, and last night I did not like it when I had to explain myself to everyone.

4. the gauntlet - I know pastors are supposed to guard the door on the way out of church, but I caught myself slipping behind pastor #2 without really wanting to interact. I am sure that he would have shaken my hand and thanked me for coming, but I avoided him. I really don't know my psyche on that, but nevertheless I did it. I am not proud of what I did either.

5. I did not know the program - I know we curse the bulletin checklist of what happens next, but I found myself wanting to know more of what is going to happen next. How long will it be, what should I expect etc.

6. A few last thoughts. It would have been even more awkward if I had been alone and not with family. At least I had someone to talk to. Also, I knew the songs, they were country and old school, but I knew most of them from my childhood and that probably made it more comfortable. Also, I knew what to expect as far as the general beliefs and practice of that particular tribe of Baptist. Not knowing the culture would have been a killer.

All in all, I gained a greater respect for those who venture to church for the first time. I was reminded that it is not easy, and that it takes a lot to get me to go to a church where I know I will feel like I did last night. I also know that the more I attended that church the more comfortable I would feel. I don't know that I can criticize anything that they did, other than have me raise my hand as a guest; that we don't do. Even then, I am going to rethink how we treat our guests and how we can do a better job of removing any obstacle to them getting in and worshipping God.