Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What the Church Can Learn from Massachusetts

Like many of you, I watched with anticipation as the results of yesterday's special election made their way to the television tuned to CNN. I listened as the polls started to close and observed the numbers all pointing in Scott Brown's favor. I watched Martha Coakley go down and a state senator that was barely known just ten days ago rise to the top. I keep looking at the numbers of the race, reviewing how Brown came in with 51.9 percent of the vote and Coakley ended with 47.1 percent. I am aware of how history has been made as a Republican has been elected in Massachusetts. Scott Brown has become the first Republican to win a Senate seat in Massachusetts since 1972 and joins what is now an entirely Democratic delegation.

Change has come.

History has been made.

This is not your grandfather's Massachusetts.

The Kennedy era is over.

The people have voted.

And, I'm hopeful that people in the church are taking note. I am hopeful that we in the church can learn a few things from this election.

Political commentators are talking about how Coakley took much for granted. She, along with many people in the Democratic party, assumed she would win. She assumed that she would win just because she was a Democrat running in Massachusetts. President Obama did not come to her aid until the weekend. Money from the Democratic Party did not pour in until this past week. Much was taken for granted.

And, we in the church often repeat the same mistakes.

I serve a church where some 50 years ago, all we had to do was open the doors and people would come. We were a church that was 4,500 members strong. We had bowling leagues and weekly dances on Saturday nights. We had dozens of Sunday school classes and owned our own camp for underprivileged children. We had different departments ranging from the Drama Department to the Social Concerns Department. When people came to Washington, the people back home told them to come to Mount Vernon Place. When the doors were unlocked, people came in - thousands of them on any given week.

We kept opening our doors. We kept doing the same thing over and over again. We kept spending money on programs that worked in the 1960s but had not brought anyone new into the doors in recent history. We kept relying upon the same tactics, the same kind of worship, the same bulletin covers, the same programs. We kept repeating what we had done in the past, failing to take note of all the changes arriving with the future.

So often, our churches operate as though everyone around us is a Christian. We presuppose that if a new family moves to town that they will eventually find their way to church, and we pray they will choose our church. We don't pay much attention to how our buildings appear from the outside or how the bathrooms appear on the inside. We place announcements in the bulletin about what is happening in the life of the congregation, telling people to "contact Susan to RSVP" but we do not put any contact information in the bulletin, assuming that everyone knows who Susan is. We rely upon the lectionary to tell us what to preach on Sunday mornings. We tend to forget about how much everything around us has changed and cannot understand why the church needs to change, too.

I visited a church on Sunday morning. When I walked in the doors, I clearly looked like a newcomer. I stood there with a puzzled look on my face wondering how to get to the sanctuary. There were greeters there, but no one said anything to me until I asked how to get to the sanctuary. With that question, they simply said, "It's that way," instead of going out of their way to welcome me and let me know how glad they were to have me at their church. I could have easily walked out and gone to one of the five other churches on the same street. But, I sat down and journeyed through the service. When it came time for communion, I knew I was not welcome at the table. But, no one offered any instruction. No one invited me to come forward for a blessing. I sat there as a newcomer, as one who wanted and needed so much more.

How about we take a lesson from Massachusetts? How about we take nothing for granted? What changes would we need to make at Mount Vernon Place to demonstrate how we are doing everything we can to not only welcome the newcomer but to get people in our doors in the first place? What changes would need to be made at your church to convey the same message?

Congratulations, Senator-elect Brown.

1 comment:

Jerry Roberson said...

I can easily relate to the topic.

When serving on leadership in a prior church's young adult Sunday school class, I felt like I constantly had to remind our members to consider what it's like to be a first-time visitor. On Sunday morning, members were so happy to see one another that few of them would break from their socializing to sit with, talk to, and get to know a newcomer. It was frustrating, but occasionally people would follow my lead.

Mount Vernon Place is definitely much better at meeting, greeting, and making new people feel welcome, but I know we can do better. The challenge of putting oneself in the shoes of a first time visitor .... or even a newcomer to the neighborhood .... is a tough one. However, it's a challenge we all must take.

At some time in our life, we are all newcomers to a new environment or scene. Those first impressions of welcome and invitation can make all the difference.