By 6:45 am, it was a balmy 92 degrees, the heat causing your clothes to cling to your skin as if in it they’d find relief. Staring out of the window of our air-conditioned vehicle, my Dad, my brother, and I pulled into the parking lot of a golf course that was a bit unkempt. The bushes were a little too bushy. The grass looked like it needed a haircut, and the sand in the bunkers looked like the sandbox of a 3-year-old. (if you don’t know what that kind of sandbox looks like, trust me…it ain’t pretty) The sign needed a paint job, the parking lot a new top coat, and the roof a new…roof.
As we exited the cool car, we walked past 4 spots reserved for the best-of-the best members. One for the club champion, one for the women’s club champion, one for the junior club champion, and one for the guy with the most expensive driver (sorry…made that last one up. There were 4 spots, I just can’t remember who the 4th one was for) As hot as the day had already become, this felt like a kick in the teeth. As I sat on the tailgate putting my shoes on, all I could think was that if I could’ve saved a few steps, I would’ve been grateful.
We dropped our bags outside of the clubhouse, and went in to pay. When we left with our practice range balls, which looked about as beaten up as a golf ball that’s rolled its way into the corner of your garage for a decade, we were confined to only a portion of the range…the right side being for members only. There was a clear demarkation for outsiders, people like us, who were just visiting.
We weren’t allowed to drive our carts on parts of the range either…only members could do that. We had to be sure to stay inside the lines, and not put ourselves in places where we weren’t allowed.
The rest of the day wasn’t so bad. The course layout was decent enough. I played like an old hag, but nonetheless, the course was perfectly acceptable though a bit overgrown. The first 20 minutes we were there, though, left an impression.
We felt like outsiders.
It didn’t matter that the course itself was decent. It didn’t matter that the greens rolled smoothly. It didn’t matter that the head greenskeeper had worked extra hard to rake every bunker or weed-eat the edges of the ponds. It didn’t even matter that the layout was fun. The first 20 minutes left an impression. And we won’t be going back.
Outsiders at Church
Our churches are no different.
When people visit, the music could be above par. The preaching Biblical. The bulletins slick and catchy. The offering plates shined and the lights on queue.
But if you don’t catch people when they hit the parking lot, you may have made an irreversible impression. If they’re not made to feel welcomed when they enter the front doors, you’re stacking the deck against yourself. Focusing on details is great…just don’t miss the forest for the trees.
If guests feel like they’re being given a treatment that’s less special than members, I guarantee they’ll notice. If they’re asked to sit in a certain section, singled out, or in any way made to feel less important than the elite guard that call themselves the church membership, they probably won’t come back. If from the moment they arrive they don’t feel honored and welcomed, you’ve probably lost them. Just like the golf course lost us in the parking lot.
I’m not saying we should do away with church membership. In fact, I’m raising the bar for membership.
Church insiders: go out of your way to give of yourselves and ensure visitors feel welcome. Make sure that there’s no hindrance to the love and beauty of the Gospel but the Gospel itself. Roll out the red carpet, sound the trumpet, and give of yourself until it costs you something so that visitors see the Gospel as loving, grace-filled, and abounding in hope for all men. Shake a hand. Offer a cup of coffee. Hold the door open. Give them the best parking spots. And for crying out loud, smile. Even if it pains you.
And please, please, don’t ever give preferential treatment. Favoritism and faith are incompatible. (James 2:1-13)
Our churches should be the most warm, welcoming, loving, inviting, truth-filled and grace-saturated places on the planet.
Ever been in a church that gave preferential treatment to its members?
Ever felt ignored as a church visitor?