Thursday, April 13, 2017

Bret Goes to Church (Guest Post!)

We’ve noted before that it really isn’t fair to evaluate a church (or a bar, for that matter) by one experience, but people often decide whether they’re interested in a church based on one visit. We’ve occasionally visited churches with our son, Bret, and we got to talking about it. Here’s what one recent church visit decided for him -- Dean and Mindy

Church for the Socially Awkward
I’ve never been the best at the whole socializing thing. I was the guy in the corner looking at his phone at most parties, only this was before everyone had smartphones, so I was the guy in the corner looking at whatever electronic device he could find, including pocket flashlights. I needed written instructions from a humor columnist to understand proper bathroom etiquette. Even today, after years of progress, anything I say about the unwritten cues of society should be taken with the same amount of salt as the average fast food… anything.

With that out of the way -- I like to think the Church can deal with people who are socially awkward. I know God can, and we’re supposed to be his instruments on Earth.

Often, the Church has. I’ve been to good churches, both long and short term, and churches where, even if things didn’t work out, the problem was clearly on my end.

At a church I recently visited, I don’t think the problem was on my end.

For all I know, it’s a fine church, full of people devoted to Christ and strong in his service, people who it would be an honor to meet. But there’s the problem. I didn’t meet anyone.

Before the service, I put in a light attempt to mingle. Not anything impressive by professional standards, but I drifted through the break room on the side trying to find anything that was not coffee (an attempt doomed to failure). In the process, I passed by a number of people in prime “party’s full” clusters. And then I drifted back out. No greetings, no “hey, have I seen you before?” No “trust me, the coffee’s garbage.” Just people with their own things going on, and me left with mine.

It didn’t go much better once the service proper started.

There’s no set form, as far as I’m aware, for Protestant church meetings, but if you spend fifteen minutes on a video about your current church development plans before you even have a song, it implies a certain message: “You’ve been here before.”

No greeting or anything beyond “you should probably fill out the cards” for a new visitor to latch onto, just status updates on things you were expected to know already.

I mean, I get it. It’s a late evening service, the regular core is attending; it’s for them. But I felt like it was only for them. Anyone from outside who attended was a statistical anomaly -- they should have already come to a church event or something already, and if they don’t feel comfortable, it’s their own fault.

Well, maybe it's my fault. Again, social skills are not my strong suit, and I didn’t put that much effort into making myself a member of the community instead of using Project Gutenberg to see what Christian writing was in the Canadian public domain.

But one thing I’m pretty sure of?

You shouldn’t leave church lonelier than when you came in.

Bret Anderson recently moved back to his native city of Fresno to find that it seems different since he left 26 years ago. Good coffee wasn’t on his list of requirements for a good church then, and it isn’t now -- but fellowship is.