Next month I’m putting on a free workshop for pastors and ministry leaders on how to use social networking in ministry. I believe that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, etc. can be great free resources for churches wanting to strengthen community and communications. I’m so excited about this workshop that I even spent a few bucks on print materials that I can hand out to pastors when I invite them.
Last Monday I decided to drive around town and personally invite pastors to the event. You know, hand them a flier, shake their hand, meet some of our community’s spiritual leaders. It sounded like fun and my son, Hudson, decided to get dressed up and go with me. It was going to be a great father and son time and we were both looking forward to it. However, the afternoon ended up quite a disappointment.
I have to admit how surprised I was by how nay churches were totally inaccessible. Some were empty and lifeless. Empty parking lots, lights off, nobody home. Even worse, some had cars and lights but all the doors were locked! No bell and no answer to knocks on the door. As bad as that was, there was a far worse scenario.
We walked up to one large church in a fine part of town. Hudson had his shoulder bag of invitations and I was looking forward to meeting this pastor because I had driven past his church so many times. The first door was unlocked, great! The second door, however, was locked. I had to push a button to get someone’s attention. One of the office staff peered out at us through bullet-proof glass and asked why we were there. I told her we wanted to invite their pastor to a free workshop. She buzzed us in and we stepped into an area where there was another window and more bullet-proof glass. There was an office area and multiple staff were working diligently behind the safety of the glass.
I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt that uncomfortable. They looked at us like we had lobsters coming out of our ears! It was obvious that unfamiliar faces weren’t welcome there outside the context of church services. The woman opened a small part of the window so I could slide her an invitation, then immediately closed it back up again. She had no interest in what I had to say and couldn’t even spare a smile for Hudson. If they treated us that way, I don’t even want to think about how a homeless person or a refugee would be treated.
The hardest part of our outing? When my six-year-old son asked me why no pastors would talk to us. When he asked why the ladies weren’t very nice, and why all the doors were locked. Even a child knows that a church should be a warm place. It should be a place where people are welcomed and accepted. It should be that way every day, not just Sunday! And now I found myself in the position of explaining that the church really is good and does mean well. Not an easy task when I had the same taste in my mouth that he did.
Unfortunately, many churches have become more like gated communities than churches. Security is in place to keep out the undesirables, the needy, the solicitors, and the just plain unfamiliar. Suspicious of unknown faces, they’re treated with a cold reception and a short response. Heaven forbid someone should come in and interrupt the pastor’s sermon preparation or keep the secretary from getting the bulletin together. Am I wrong to believe that the church is about people everyday (not just Sunday)?
Defined core values have been a big part of church leadership these days. Often times, they’re posted on web sites and printed in bulletins. Statements like “Prayer, Evangelism, God’s Word, and Worship are our core values” are made. I’ve got a suggestion because I’ve yet to see this as a posted core value. How about “People”? How about “People are important to us because they bare the image of God, because they are dearly loved by God, and because Jesus didn’t die for a building, a sermon, a program, or a ministry. He died for people. Not just people who attend our church or share our beliefs, but all people. Because “People” is one of Jesus’ core values, then “People” will be one of our core values too. Even on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
I know it feels like a risk, but let’s get rid of the gated community mentality and be the church every day. Open the doors. Welcome the stranger. See love spread.