Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor
Last night i had a dream that my wife and i were on a vacation in Paris.
We’d apparently met some people there and were about to have lunch at this outdoor café. We were seated at a long table and Angie, miraculously recalling her one year of High School French, was suddenly fluent in the language and deep in conversation with some ladies at the other end of the table. She was probably asking questions about this annoying French detective show she used to watch on Netflix while i was trying to sleep, or maybe if there was a Kohl’s on the Champs-Élysées.
I, who do not speak French, was sitting next to a surly man in a red sweater, feeling alone.
The people we were with spoke English really well, with only slight hints of the Inspector Clouseau accents that i expect Parisians to have. One lady saw me taking a picture with my phone and asked about my interest in photography. I responded with a way too long answer about myself, failing to engage her with questions about her camera, her phone, and her photos, the way good conversationalists do, so she lost interest mid-answer and i was left kind of alone, again.
The waiter came to take our orders, and i asked for steak and mashed potatoes.
Steak and mashed potatoes.
I woke up shortly after the food had arrived, when the waiter spilled grease on the khakis i was wearing. I laid there in bed, trying to piece together the dream and wondering if there was something i was supposed to learn from it, outside of ‘order freaking French food if you’re ever in France!’ (Perhaps i’ll make a T-Shirt.)
Maybe i was supposed to represent a guy visiting Stonepoint Church for the first time, not really speaking the ‘language,’ and not knowing anyone (except my wife, who had immediately fit in.) I didn’t feel welcomed, i didn’t have anyone suggesting whatever the heck French people eat—visisouise, escargot, or other things i’ve seen on cooking shows, but apparently can’t remember when it’s time to order. There was no ‘community’ to help me along, no ‘host team’ to make my first visit enjoyable. I was just there.
If i’d asked the man in the red sweater what to order at the restaurant, he would have probably told me. He just didn’t seem open to conversation. The photography lady might have told me what was good, but i didn’t stop telling my boring story long enough to ask. I could’ve texted Angie and she would have bailed me out of my predicament, but we were probably not using cell service overseas out of fear of the $8,000 phone bill. All those things were on me.
But if the Paris people had gone out of their way to be nice, make me feel at ease, ask if i had any questions, my imaginary experience in their city could have been fantastic.
If you’re a regular attender, and see someone you don’t know, introduce yourself. Yes, we have hosts for first time guests, but we should all think of ourselves as ‘hosts’ and Stonepoint as ‘our church.’ Take ownership, and if you see someone looking even slightly confused, get them checked in, ask ‘em questions, and get them a cup of coffee.
Or maybe in my dream, i was supposed to represent a new believer in Christ, wanting to embrace my new surroundings, but when the pressure was on, heading back to the thing i knew from my old way of life. Again, i didn’t have ‘community’ helping me, i didn’t consult the ‘menu,’ or wasn’t properly trained in how to read it. My old ‘steak and potatoes’ way of life was easier to navigate than the new waters i found myself in.
That happens a lot.
People come to faith in Christ, or rekindle a desire for a relationship with him that they’d lost somewhere along the way and start coming to church. God is drawing them to Himself. But they don’t get plugged in, don’t have friends, don’t find a place of service where they can meet new people, and slowly that old way of life starts to draw them back in.
It’s not always the sin that’s the lure…but the feeling of not being isolated, not being alone.
Either way, i think we can learn something from my REM experience in the City of Lights. The way we treat people is so incredibly important. We get communication cards and guest surveys all the time saying how welcoming and friendly our church is. I love seeing those kinds of comments, but there’s always room for improvement. Always an extra step we can go if we’d try to see through the lens of a first time visitor, or new believer and try to answer their questions before they’re asked.
Don’t be the surly man in the red sweater, no matter what you’re wearing.