Monday, March 12, 2007

Commenting on the Comments

Stacey's comment on my "Third Place" post finally put me over the 11-comment-per-post record. Thanks, Stacey! (Well yes I can count my own comments if I wish, thank you very much!)

But also it reminded me of an experience I had this weekend.

On Friday, my roommate had an orchestra recital in a nearby town. When I say "nearby," I don't mean very nearby--just near enough for her to have a recital there. Normally this town is not on my radar, but there is a branch of a fairly renowned evangelical ministry centered there. I have, on occasion, considered attending one of the lectures they hold there on a mostly weekly basis, but because the relevant town scarcely crosses my mind, I almost never remember. Because Roommate-Sarah was going to be up in that neck of the woods, however, on the spur of the moment I decided to ride up with her and check the organisation out.

I walked in the door, feeling somewhat ill-at-ease as most people do when they go somewhere they've never been before. The way to help people get over this, of course, is to have a standard like Starbucks tries to have (though it falls apart when there's a line of more than five people) of greeting someone within thirty seconds of their entry. None of these people had ever worked at Starbucks before, apparently. A few of them looked up, with very little curiosity. No one ventured over to say hi. No one even said hi. They all just carried on in the conversations they had been having when I walked in. I couldn't even pretend I knew what I was doing, because I had never been there before. Clearly the lecture wasn't going to be in the entryway, and I had no idea where to go instead.

Eventually, after I stood around looking awkward for long enough, one, and then another, of them greeted me and introduced themselves, giving me a little guidance as to protocol and tea and such. The presence of tea was a plus. And the people were actually quite nice. And the lecture ended up being stimulating. I don't hold any ill-feelings towards these people, and I still have respect for the organisation. I do understand that it isn't actually a church, but a parachurch group.

Still, it seems to me that Stacey's observation applies here, too, and Christian organisations at large could stand to learn a little bit from Starbucks' strategies for fostering loyal customers. If we're looking for "customers," too, our hearts are probably not in the right place. But people want to be noticed and cared for and recognised, and if the people Jesus wanted to care through are just sitting around talking to each other exclusively and ignoring the wayfarers at the door, then, Houston (or wherever), we have a problem.


dave grosser said...

Oh yeah, I totally know what place you're talking about. And I had the same experience, after going like, every week for months. I think it must be a great place to go if you're in the in crowd. I have no idea how you get in on the in crowd though.

Thanks for linking me in your blogroll!

Jenn said...

Hmm. Even after months? Sheesh.

And you're welcome! Thanks for linking me, too!

GreekGeek said...

Having been on far too many church committees and para-church committees where everyone talks about the need to be welcoming and making sure we're noticing those who are new or look lost, and then watching everyone doing exactly what you described here, I think you're absolutely right - we need to send all church and para-church staff to go work at Starbucks... (And the church has a major, major problem with "in crowds" in my mind... but that's for a different day.)

Anonymous said...

Hey, so after reading a few of your blog entries, I've discovered that you have a fondness for the English spelling of words, like "organization." I prefer the American English spelling which is the way I spelling it. But I think that if I ever lived in London for a lengthy period of time, I believe that my affections might also be...redirected.

Jenn said...

Anonymous--thanks for reading, and for making yourself (sort of) known. You're kind to call my spelling preference an "affection." It's probably more accurately an affectation.

When I was in junior high I decided the British spellings of words were cool, and so I adopted them at that tender age, in spite of the remonstrances of my high school history teacher that, "Well you don't LIVE in England!"

Then I did, and the fact that I had already trained myself to spell that way actually came in handy.

And now I do it for nostalgia's sake. Sometimes I slip up, though. And it was hard giving up the American "z"s (or "zeds"--only then they wouldn't be American).