What Do People See?

jim_and_casper.jpgWhat do people really see when they visit our church?  Do we realize what they see?

I have been reading an interesting book this week, co-authored by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper.  The title of the book is Jim &  Casper Go To Church.  The book is a conversation between the two as they visit eleven different churches in the United States.  What makes the book especially interesting is that Matt Casper is an atheist.  Henderson and Casper have forged a friendship that gives the book much warmth.

Casper gives his reaction, as a non-believer, to many of the things done by well-meaning Christians in various church settings.  It is interesting to see this from the eye of a non-believer.

In one chapter of the book, they describe their visit to a very high profile church.  They are both very complimentary of much about the church.  Then they mention that only one person spontaneously spoke to them the morning they were there.  Hmmm.

I suspect that the longer many of us live as Christian people, the harder it becomes to see what outsiders might see in our churches.  Some years ago as I began a new work with a church, I asked them about their sign in front of the church building.  It was awful.  Faded.  Sagging in one direction.  Very, very dated.  Anyway, I asked several people about the sign in front of the building.  The responses I received?  "What sign?"  "Is there something wrong with our sign?"  After I raised the question, several people came back to me and said,  "I go by that sign every day and never noticed how badly it looks.  We really need a new sign."  I suspect we are like that with our churches in general.  After a while, we just don’t see what is so obvious to an outsider or newcomer.

What do you think people (outsiders or newcomers) see in your church?  What do they probably notice that is positive and encouraging?  What might they notice that is not so encouraging?  Do you think it is difficult for many of us who are longtime members of these churches to see these things?

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19 thoughts on “What Do People See?

  1. Now you have peeked my interest to that book. I may add it to the wish list of things to buy and read.
    I once read in a "church growth magazine" that I have long since forgot the name of, that visitors make an impression of the congregation they visit within 2 or 3 minutes. Those precious minutes say much on how we handle greeting or not greeting visitors.
    Many times congregations believe they are friendly, but they may only be friendly to themselves. I go to area gospel meetings in blue jeans and a t-shirt sometimes with no Bible and see how I am greeted. Some have been exceptional and others have been horrible. Then at their next meeting I go back in a suit and tie (ya know, preacher clothes), it can be unnerving how the attitude changes.
    I pray that the congregation here is doing there best to welcome everyone.
    Just my thoughts…

  2. I think it’s really important not to do things out of self promotional motivation though – – people see right through that…as you likely have read in the book. we need to foster in people the right ways of thinking and doing that  in turn communicates a message of care and love – – rather than manufacturing it. granted, sometimes it’s a "fake it till you make it" approach but I think we need to be cautious about the church growth trap.

  3. Jim, I think you’re absolutely correct.  We get blind to our own wrinkles.  One of the first things I noticed about the church in Rochester as we moved last year was the fact that it has half a steeple.  The church has planned for 5 decades to complete the steeple, but has never gotten around to it.  As a symbol, the half-steeple is just awful. 
    And the building doesn’t have handicap access even though you have to climb stairs to get in and the only bathrooms are downstairs and then back up a few more stairs. 
    The congregation has grown blind to the fact that the steeple doesn’t point to heaven and the congregation can’t serve the worship needs of the weakest and most frail in the community. 
    Though blind to the symbol, the symbols says something about who we are.  By God’s grace we’re trying to open our eyes, see ourselves and make the painful and needed changes in who we are.  When we change, the symbols will change too. 

  4. I read that book a couple of weeks ago and thought it was a fascinating concept. They also have a church rating website and I am still not quite sure what I think about rating churches. It seems like they are combating all the consumerism in churches and then go and do that!  

  5. Thanks Gallagher– It is interesting and disheartening to see that believers do make some interesting distinctions based upon dress. Makeesha–Thanks!  Of course you are very correct.  Our efforts to manufacture only seem to move us further from authenticity and the reality of the transformed life.   

  6. Thanks Gallagher– It is interesting and disheartening to see that believers do make some interesting distinctions based upon dress. Makeesha–Thanks!  Of course you are very correct.  Our efforts to manufacture only seem to move us further from authenticity and the reality of the transformed life.  Ben, Good point!  You express it very well.  Sometimes we live with these illusions about ourselves that may bear little resemblance to reality.       

  7. Matt,I am not sure what I think about rating churches either.  I do like the idea of trying to see a church through someone else’s eyes–such as this atheist.

  8. I loved that book…but it did challenge my thinking quite a bit.  There are way too many ways in which we make ourselves an inclusive fellowship.  We don’t do it intentionally…but we come to church and try to see our friends…others are left to fend for themselves.

  9. Donna,You said it well.  "…Others are left to fend for themselves."  I suspect  that happens more than I would like to admit or know about.  Thanks!

  10. After our recent move, we began attending a small (125-150 people) church near our new home. One or two people engaged us in genuine coversation (not “Hi, My name is Randy…uh, I have to go talk to Jerry over there about something; nice to meet you” non-conversation) the first few weeks we attended. After an exhausting search for a church, really, that hospitality was one of the top things we were hoping for.

  11. We moved last August and have been visiting around trying to find a new church home and it’s been an interesting ride.  As of yet, I’ve not found that place that seems to be what I am looking for but, I’m sure it’s probably me.  Fortunately, I’m also in recovery and have found an awesome recovery group to be a part of so for that I am very grateful.  I actually felt at home the minute I walked into my first meeting and it just keeps getting better.   The difference between the two, IMO, is the realness and honesty and acceptance.  I know Jesus likes those things so I’m still searching for that in church as well.

  12. I hate to say it but when we visit a church sometimes our expectations are that we are waiting to see what that church is going to do for US.  Why can’t we reach out and ask about the church, classes, etc.  At times, we just wait to be "served" instead of trying to "reach and get it".  One visit to a church tells us very little.  Churches are full of members looking for help too.  Maybe we are the ones to help them and not the other way around. 

  13. And just to complicate matters further …
    If I wandered into a new church for the first time and people were very intentional about "engaging [me] in genuine conversation" I’d probably run for the hills.  Partially, I’m just not used to small churches and when there are a thousand people milling around, nobody knows who’s new.  But I really need to be able to test the waters and get acclimated at my own pace without pressure to Interact!  Authentically!  Now!  I’m perfectly capable of seeking out smaller groups within the church when I want to get more connected, but I need to do that at my own pace.
    Most people are more relational than I am, I grant you.  But there are some of us out there too!

  14. A very good comment Gail.  I especially caught your remark regarding one visit to a church.  When I read that, I thought about our family.  I don’t think that one visit to our home would necessarily reflect who we are.  It might–but not necessarily.

  15. Michelle/Lisa– Your comments remind me of how challenging it is to move somewhere and to find a church home.  A good reminder for me…Thanks. 

  16. Kristen,Thanks.  Your comment illustrates the complexity of being with people and not always knowing what to do.  Nevertheless, you remind me not to be quick in thinking "one size fits all."  Thank you. 

  17. Hi, Jim! I’m glad that you enjoyed "Jim & Casper Go to Church."
    I’m a volunteer with Jim Henderson’s organization Off the Map and I wanted to let
    you know about our Live event coming up this November in Seattle. Both
    Jim and Matt Casper will be speaking at this event. Here is the link if
    you want to find out more: http://www.offthemap.com/live