No Easy Trip to Church

Walking through the hallways of the church this morning reminded me of how difficult it is for a person who is attending a church for the first time. I met a couple with three children, one of which was on a wheel chair and severely handicapped. They didn’t know where the services were. Since they had kids in different age groups, they had to go to different rooms where their classes were.

The girl on the wheel chair was too old for the nursery, but they asked to leave her there. “She will just sit that and play with the toys. She may roll on the carpet but she will be okay.” The volunteers at the nursery didn’t know what to do, but they reluctantly agreed. The girl was fine, but since she made loud noises, they had to separate her from the other kids. We have a class for children with severe handicaps called “Special Friends,” but they don’t meet until 9:45. The girl came back for the special class, but this time it was the other kid in the class, much older than her, who was making too much noise and scared her!

The couple had looked online and were interested in a class that was going through a DVD series on the Holy Land. I took them to the right room (our campus is huge and not well marked!). I dropped them there and left, but as soon as I left, I knew something was not quite right. I came back and they were still standing there — the class was for people a lot older than them. They were reluctant to join in. They suggested another class but I knew that one would not be a good fit for them either. I told them about a class that was their age group but they met during second hour at 9:45. So they decided to go to the service and then come to the class afterwards. But they wanted to go to a contemporary service and at 8:30 we only have a traditional service.

In the end, they did go to the traditional service and later attended the class I had recommended, but I felt bad that everything was so complicated. When I found them at the end of the class, the lady said, “Sorry we were so difficult,” and I said, “No, sorry we weren’t ready for you.”

That experience reminded me that coming to church can be a hair-raising experience. This was a couple that was motivated — they did their research online, they came in early, they were asking the right questions. Still, it was not an easy experience for them. Now, granted, not everyone will have a child with severe handicaps, but whether it is a child or not, every one who comes to a church for the first time or is re-connecting to church after a long time, is dealing with unique challenges: What should I wear? How can I walk in and out of there without being bothered by anyone? What if they put me on the spot and ask me to stand up? Will they ask me to give money? What if I run into my ex there?

The questions are interminable but we dare not minimize them. In this case, I think those two were Christians; what about people who don’t even claim to believe anything? The fact that someone even makes the decision to come to church is incredible by itself. We have no control over that. But the moment they drive into our parking lots, we should be in control, and we should strive to make sure that they have the best experience ever.

I was glad when that couple told me they would be back next week.

Ivanildo C. Trindade