We just had a new member class this week, which is always wonderful. We hear the stories from so many different people about why they decided to join. And, we get to hear the reasons why they didn’t join other churches:
“Not friendly, too friendly, too creepy, too old….”
What often draws people to our congregation is the diversity—a mix of ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic levels. Miriam’s Kitchen. The music. The preaching.
Pastors shudder at the term “church shopping.” It just sounds so crass in our consumer-driven society. But, I daresay, if I did not have my job tomorrow, I would be doing the same thing. I would not call it shopping, I would put a much more spiritual label on it, like “discerning.” But I would have my list of wants/needs/expectations. I would be visiting churches, to see which ones were not friendly, too friendly, too creepy, too old.
I would not go to the nearest Presbyterian Church in my neighborhood, because the pastor–who is a wonderful person–is also an evangelical guy, who hopes that the congregation will become a megachurch in a couple of years. (Actually, that was a couple of years ago. I wonder if he’s still going for that…). Not only would I chafe hearing his theology on Sunday morning, but I would also make his life a living hell. That just wouldn’t be pretty. So, I don’t think there would be anything wrong with trying to find the right fit.
What would I be looking for? I love church, so I could go on and on about that. But, maybe I’ll start with the things that annoy me in church:
•Boomers trying to play rock music to “get the kids in.” You know, when a church starts a “contemporary” worship service, even though the word “contemporary” evokes bad 80s hair, and everyone in the praise band remembers the 60s. They’re really sure that’ll bring in the young families, but they never actually asked anyone under the age of 40 what they wanted in church.
•Sexism. Okay, every church will claim that they are not sexist. Even the most sexist churches. And I’m still shocked at the number of women who think that the rules of sexism apply everywhere but inside the church. You know, wonderful businesswomen who work for equality in their place of employment, and then don’t think anything about worshiping in a congregation where they discourage women leaders.
What is the trigger for me? Usually, the wall of men.
You’ve seen it. You walk into the church and the very first thing that you meet is every pastor that the church has had for the last two hundred years. Sometimes they’re photos. Other times we run into a seven-foot oil painting of some man, with a benign smile, in his preaching robe, big cross necklace, holding his dog-eared Bible. I always stand in front of the gentle giant and wonder, Who had that portrait made? Was that the pastor’s idea? Did they make it when he died? When he retired? Was he embarrassed? How did the next guy feel when they didn’t make one of him? Which always makes me wonder, Have I EVER seen one of these with a woman in it?
We all love our histories, and they’re important… but if you have a wall of men, and you haven’t even thought of having a lovely portrait made of one of the female associates for that wall, then, to me, that just screams sexism.
Am I saying that having a history of male pastors is sexist? Of course not. But… if all the hallway space makes us want to belt out the chorus of “Now Let Us Praise Famous Men,” then you have a lot to overcome in the sanctuary before I have that image out of my mind. That is… if I would even make it to the sanctuary.
What about you? What little things set you off in your first impression? What makes you realize that a certain congregation won’t be the right fit?