By Austin Brown
I’m not thinking about the people who get their keys out during the last song and scurry away immediately after the benediction (or maybe during!). Nor am I thinking about those individuals who only halfheartedly care about church, showing up maybe a couple times a year.
No. I have in mind those families or individuals who are actively looking for a church home. Perhaps they’ve recently moved. Or perhaps they’ve gained new convictions. Whatever the reason, they’re visiting your church, eager to settle down and call the people of the congregation their church family.
Forgive the nasty little phrase, but these folks are church shopping.
Now as you know, there are all kinds of reasons why people don’t stay. Some of the reasons are good. Some not so good. Fastidiousness is a real thing after all.
My fear is that we will lose people in the black hole of time.
Oh, yes, the black hole of time. This is that period of time following the service when the visitor is standing around awkwardly, knowing not a soul. As the church bustles about, clumped together in their familiar groups, catching up and fellowshipping, the new family nervously gathers their stuff, looks about the room and waits.
They’re hoping to be included.
Now here’s the truth. Lots of people do come up and say hello. Most churches are good at this. Oh, sure, there are a fair number of regulars who don’t pay them much attention, as they’re too focused on chatting with friends or getting some matter of church business in order. On the whole, however, the newcomers are warmly greeted.
But that’s not the real black hole of time. The real black hole occurs later. And it usually occurs at two different, but related moments. Do you know when?
People get sucked away and lost forever on the second or third or fourth visit immediately following a church service (and especially during any waiting periods- like before a fellowship meal).
This is the black hole of time. Initial hellos have been said. Handshakes have been exchanged. So everything is supposedly good now. The regulars can do their regular things, and the visitors are supposed to feel at home.
But they don’t feel at home. Not even a little. And when they’re forced to stand around while the regulars talk with perfect ease, or when the visitor consigns themselves to an empty table, not knowing what to expect, watching church life occur all around them, the temptation is to leave. To flee, actually. And never come back.
If you’ve been at the same church for years now, maybe you forget this feeling. But it’s real.
So if I may be so bold, let me encourage you to go out of your way to fill the black hole of time with warmth. Stay with the new people. Actively invite them to your table or sit down next to them. Go out of your comfort zone.
Can I say all that again? It is really quite important.
Stay with the new people. Be a good host. Take the time to hear their story and share yours. Ask good questions. Don’t leave them feeling awkward. And don’t wait too long to invite them to your house for a meal.
Hospitality and friendliness are powerful things. They can single-handedly close black holes.
**This post originally appeared on Gentle Reformation.