View from the Ridge
Heb_10:25 Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.
I want to say right up front that what I am writing about is not aimed at any particular person or church but is simply my personal observations of what we have gone through in seven weeks of trying to find a church here in Kona, Hawaii. The criticisms and faults that I discuss are aimed at me as much as anyone. What we have experienced has opened my eyes even more to how, as individuals and a church, the importance of sincere personal contact is to those seeking a church to worship and fellowship with.
The first two days I spent a good deal of time looking at various church web sites reading their statement of faith, what ministry activities they were involved in, if care groups or home Bible study groups were available, was there an active youth group and activities, all the things that indicate a healthy and viable church.
The first church we tried was a community church with a rock solid statement of faith, but just a tad too charismatic for us, plus the speaker “Aunt Betty” stated that the Lord had told her not to prepare a sermon, that he would provide the words for her to speak. The pastor, who was in the front row, allowed this to go on. No speaking in tongues, just a lot of nonsense. There are those who enjoy the charismatic service and that’s fine, it’s just not for me. What concerned me was that only one person spoke to us other than the one handing out the bulletins. The lady waving the four foot white flag during the song service didn’t help any
The second church we attended was the oldest church in the state, founded by missionaries back in the mid 1800’s and the hard wooden pews were just about that old as well. Problem is that it is a major tourist attraction and has three services just to accommodate everyone. Good preaching, good music, but a third of the people in that service were tourists. Again no one spoke to us and I understand that we appeared to be just another tourist face in the crowd. There is a severe lack of parking which doesn’t help.
The third Sunday we attended a church that we had visited two years ago and is only three miles from our house. The close proximity was attractive since we were tired of driving 30 minutes to church every Sunday. We, along with several other couples, were introduced as visitors and afterwards several men came up and carried on a real conversation. Not the pastor or associate pastor or anyone appearing in leadership. We left thinking maybe we’d have a chance at this church. We attended the next Sunday, only to be ignored by everyone including the pastor and his wife.
Sunday number five we chose a promising church only to find out that they were searching for a pastor and the music was way too loud for a congregation of only 25 people. Friendly people but too small a church for us.
The following Saturday was the monthly men’s breakfast at the church we had attended twice and I decided that would be a good place to meet some men of the church. There were about 15 or so there including the pastor, who lives next door to the church. The pastor introduced himself and several of the men standing in a group, and we carried on the standard type men’s conversation waiting for breakfast to be served. Except the pastor was off talking to other people, which was fine but I honestly thought he would want to know something of why I was there and where I was from since I was the only visitor.
After I went through the food line I was standing there trying to decide where to sit and waiting for someone to invite me to their table. Did Not Happen! So I noticed the pastor and two others at a table with an empty chair and proceeded to sit there. I was introduced to the other two fellows and we carried on a brief chit chat. From that point on the three of them conversed among themselves about various and sundry topics while I ate my breakfast. Silently. Never once did anyone ask me about what I had done for a living, why I was moving to Hawaii, about my past church experience, nothing, nada.
The next two Sundays we attend the same church only to have the same scene repeated, only worse on the last Sunday. They were having a youth group fundraiser that featured hot dogs and all the fixings. Thought we would see some of the youth, but there was only one teenager serving, and the rest were adults. We figured surely we would be able to meet some people at a social function. Again, it was like we were invisible. No one, not one single person invited us to join them. There were no tables set up, just chairs left from the church service, so everyone pulled chairs into groups and ate and fellowshipped. We wandered around and finally pulled two chairs together near another couple, not wanting to intrude but hoping to get invited to join them. No invite but they did move a chair out of our way, thank you very much. The final blow was when the pastor and his wife went through the line later, looking for a place to join in, and never once looked at us. I was eyeballing him the whole time and he never made eye contact. There weren’t more than 30 or 40 people eating at the time and yet we were invisible. That’s when Jeri and decided that this was not where God wanted us.
Through all of this I have learned some things and had others reinforced, and I will share those with you.
1. If a church wants to attract people in today’s electronic age, it must have a good web site that lays out its statement of faith, what ministries it is involved in, who are heading up these ministries, times of services and short bios of the pastoral staff. Calendars of events are helpful, but only if someone keeps the web site up to date.
2. Friendly ushers who hand out bulletins with a smile and handshake are great but only if members of the congregation get out of their comfort zone and make an effort to meet new comers and say something besides “hi, glad you came”. If you see someone standing around like they are lost, go talk to them, maybe they are. And, yes, you may discover that they have been attending for 6 months and it is embarrassing. Been there done that too many times. Better to do it now rather than later and find out they’ve been coming 9 or 12 months.
3. At a social function do not, under any circumstances, let anyone, visiting or otherwise, sit at a table by themselves. Have them join your group or go sit with them. They may be your next best friends. I will give my home church high marks in this area for I have seldom seen that happen.
4. If you happen to be looking for a church, do not head out the door like a Chinese fire drill. I can’t count the number of times I have looked for someone only to see them sprinting for their car. Invariably, some of those will claim we are an unfriendly church.
5. The pastoral staff, Elders, Deacons and Deaconesses should make a concentrated effort to meet new people and spend five or ten minutes with them after the service. Give the pastor and his wife time at the end of the service to allow them to set up to thank people as they leave. Have an Elder or a Deacon and their wives join them so that hopefully no one is missed.
6. Invite someone to lunch next Sunday. If you are a part of a group that goes out every Sunday, that’s even better. Invite them to join your group and they will meet even more people. For some it is easy to meet people, for others it is work. For years it was hard for me to meet new people, but I am married to someone who makes it look easy. I am better at it now but it is still not my comfort zone.
7. It is easy to accept and be friendly to a couple or a family that visits. But singles, youth and the elderly seem to have a more difficult time meeting people. Therefore special emphasis needs to be made to make sure that these also are greeted and introduced to other members of the congregation.
So we will continue to search for the Church that God wants us to be a part of. We will recognize it when we see it, for God is faithful in answering prayer.