On my vacation to Chicago, I decided to visit two local churches.
The first church had nothing on paper that I would have said that attracted me. This campus met in an old school’s auditorium – sans air conditioning. The worship band was good, but only included two acoustic guitars and a drum kit – nothing flashy. The environment was plain – no special lighting, the projection was more functional than beautiful, and the only set design was a set of banners that had nothing to do with the current series.
On the other hand, the second church had everything I could have wanted. It had it’s own building – with AC. The worship band was more than good – it was one of the best I had ever heard. The environment was crazy great – everything was decorated in just the right way, blending functionality and art. Like a total nerd, I had my iPhone out snapping shots of the design throughout the building for future ideas.
It should have been no contest on which one was my favorite.
And it wasn’t – but not in the way I expected.
Though the second church was magnificent, I never felt welcome. When I walked in the door, I wasn’t greeted until I asked for help. It wasn’t apparent where anything was – I had to do some uncomfortable exploring to find the restroom. I had to ask where the auditorium was located. When it was over, the only person to talk to me first was an intern that just happened to be standing outside. Everyone had their people, and I had no one.
In stark contrast, the first church impressed me over and over. When I walked by the parking lot, someone was there to greet me and show me how to get inside the school. At the door, several greeters welcomed me and told me that they were glad I was there. Just inside, there was a team of people handing out information about the church – they were very friendly. Before I could make it to the old, worn auditorium, several members introduced themselves to me and asked me my story. In the meeting space, over a half-dozen people chatted with me on a level much deeper than I expected. When the service ended, I couldn’t leave without several more people making me feel welcome. I felt like I was one of the regulars.
If I were moving to the Windy City, the first church would be my home. Lights, art, and top-notch bands are great – but what counts is feeling welcome and loved.
In our churches and student ministries, we need to focus on love and friendliness. Everything else is secondary.