Last week, LuAnn and I took the kids to Cody and Casper, WY to celebrate Christmas with our families. (The kids thought it was an awesome idea to celebrate Christmas 3 times!) The roads were a little icy, but ok for the most part – visibility was good, so we didn’t have any problems.
While we were gone, we were able to attend a church as visitors for the first time in a long time. I haven’t done that lately, and it really made me think about the people who visit WestWay for the first time. What is their experience like? Could it be better?
We pulled into the parking lot and waited in a line that had stacked up when someone got stuck in a drift that had formed between rows of cars. Before you jump to criticize the church for not plowing the lot, remember this was Wyoming on a windy winter day: drift happens. Once the car was clear of the drift (with help received from a few guys on their way in) I found a parking spot about as far from the front door as possible. Not because I wanted to, but because that’s all that was left. This says a few things:
1. People like it here. The lot is full, so there must be something going on.
2. First come, first served. If you want a good parking spot, get here earlier – we arrived about 15 minutes before the service started, but the closer spots were long gone.
I remember a time in my previous ministry when we were really struggling with parking issues. We had cars parked all along the street in addition to a lot full. But there was a separate parking area on one side of the building that was very convenient to park in. We asked our leaders to park as far away as possible to push out the “first come, first served” mentality, but it was tough convincing people to save those spots for visitors.
Once we were inside, we weren’t sure if there was a children’s service or if they should stay with us, so we went downstairs where the children used to (and I think still do) gather, but found out there was no children’s service this week. Not a big deal, but the lack of information could set visitors on edge. I thought of WestWay and how informed a visitor could be here. They walk in the door and if they have kids, only experience (which a visitor by definition does not have) will lead them through the gym, down the right hall or up the right stairs, or to the right classroom. We need to do better.
The whole visiting experience made me wonder again about what goes on in our churches on Sunday mornings and how are students who are new to my ministry welcomed on Wednesday nights? Honestly, I fear that much of what happens is meaningful only to the already initiated. I know what’s going on… I understand what’s going on… because this is what I’ve known all my life. I’m connected to these people. I am these people.
But how are outsiders being connected? There’s always an advocacy for inviting people to come to church with you, but when they come, what do they find? We need to make sure they don’t find yet another club to which they don’t belong…