Several weeks ago, I had a rare opportunity for a few, uninterrupted hours alone--no children, just me and my laptop. I took the opportunity to do something I've not done in a long, long time...I went to Starbucks (cue the angelic choir).
Once I was settled in with my caffeinated beverage of choice, I was ready for the creative juices to flow. It didn't take long, however, to notice the juices weren't flowing. In fact, I was having a difficult time focusing at all. Oddly, it had little to do with my usual procrastination method--Facebook and Pinterest--and more to do with the constant chatter coming from the counter.
This wasn't the typical can-I-take-your-order chatter. This was genuine, excited conversation as employees greeted customers by name and asked detailed questions about their weekend, their families, and their jobs. It was as if I had stumbled upon a hipster version of Cheers.
Not everyone likes to be chatted up before they've had a good dose of caffeine, but from what I could tell, most of the people enjoyed it. Even those who started off rather gruff and grumpy quickly warmed up to the chit chat.
I was intrigued by this phenomenon, and as I continued to observe, I realized the warm and inviting atmosphere was really the result of a few simple things--things we Christians could learn when it comes to our churches:
1. They made me feel welcome. It didn't matter that I was the only one who pulled up in a minivan, that I didn't have cool hipster clothes or artsy tattoos, or that my laptop was older than some of the employees. They treated me just like they treated everyone else. They looked at me, smiled at me, and called me by name. I may have looked different from them, but they didn't treat me any differently.
Imagine for a moment, if we took that lesson into our churches, looking past how people are dressed or how many tattoos they might have (or don't have). What if we looked at the person and what needs they might have? Hmmm, wouldn't that be revolutionary...
2. They met my need. My date with Starbucks happened to come on one of those days, the kind that leave you desperately needing some caffeine. And that's exactly what I got--a nice, big cup of steaming caffeine. Honestly, I was so grateful, the barista could have probably convinced me to buy his car, too.
Of course the ultimate need of people who come to our churches is a relationship with God, but maybe they don't yet realize that. Maybe they are just looking for community. Maybe they need counseling. Maybe times are tough and they need help feeding their family. If we pounce on them with our list of 10 reasons they need Jesus when they're just wondering how to feed their 6 kids this week, we could very well turn them off to church. Or worse, we may turn them off to the only thing that will ultimately help them--a relationship with God. It may be cliché, but it's true: People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.
3. They had fun. Most of that distracting hum of conversation was coming from behind the counter. The employees were having a great time. There was a lot of fun and laughter, and a boatload of "please" and "thank you," "could you" and "I'd be happy to." That's how they talked to each other...their fellow employees! I have no desire to ever work in the food service industry, but I couldn't help thinking, "This would be a really fun place to work!"
What if people came to our churches and thought, "This would be a really fun place to come every week!"? Imagine if there was less gossip, backstabbing, and griping about the pastor or the music. What if there was more respect, genuine friendliness, and all around good times? What if people actually enjoyed going to church? Shocking, I know!
I'm going to venture a guess that if people came to a church that was enjoyable, they'd be more willing to come back, if only to feel good for a few hours after a hard week. (Before you send me an email let me be clear: I'm not saying to toss out the Word of God for more ping pong tables and video games. I'm talking about an "attitude" of general happiness.)
Starbucks obviously has a different goal than our churches do. They want to make money; we want to see lives changed for the glory of God. If Starbucks employees can get excited over an extra shot of espresso, can't we get excited over a living, active relationship with the Creator of the universe?
The same people who frequent Starbucks are the same people coming to our churches. They may not come looking for a jolt of caffeine (although it doesn't hurt to have some available!). They may not even know why they come, but by the time they leave, they probably know if they'll come back.
Some churches get this. They do a fantastic job of creating a fun and welcoming environment. Still, I often talk to people who have a preconceived notion of church and Christianity because of their negative (sometimes horrific!) experiences in church.
While I can't undo the hurt some people have experienced in the name of Christianity, I can, hopefully, be part of the healing. I can see these people for who they are...hurting. I can look for a need and pray that God will give me wisdom to help meet it. I can enjoy life, and invite them to join the fun! (Because when Christianity is done right, it really is a lot of fun, isn't it?)
Imagine what could happen in our communities if people were drawn to Christians and to church because of warmth and friendliness. What if they kept coming back for the fun and community? What would happen if they liked it enough to stay (and their lives were changed by the power of God)?
It could happen. After all, don't we all want to go where everybody knows our name?
Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.