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.