The Dentist and Church
I went to the Dentist last week (Monday the 29th). My vehement dislike for dental procedures (including cleanings) meant that I had not been to the Dentist in 4 or 5 years (I would not recommend waiting that long in between visits). I felt so sorry for the girl cleaning my teeth that I continued to apologize to her. I felt bad that my teeth had not been professionally cleaned in a long time because I know it made her job harder than it should have been. She was sweet and assured me that she had seen worse. While my teeth felt smooth and polished afterwards, my gums were sore (I was quite disappointed at myself for not taking better care of my gums). I have since promised myself that I would not wait 5 years to visit the Dentist again and that I would be more consistent in flossing my teeth.
I imagine the experience I had at the Dentist must be similar to the experience first time visitors (or even long time non-attenders) have when they attend a church service: disappointment. They have finally answered God’s prompting to attend a church service and when they do they just end up being disappointed: either at themselves or at the church. They don’t like the feeling they get at the church service so they don’t go back to a service for a few years or possibly even ever.
It’s possible that the person just didn’t attend the right church for them, but often it’s the church’s fault when someone has a bad experience. Sometimes the congregation can make a visitor or a long time non-attender feel like they don’t belong. Instead of welcoming them home like the father did to the wayward son in the parable of the prodigal son, they act superior and holier and make the person feel unwelcome and unwanted. Or maybe the pastor goes on and on about sin and judgment and God’s wrath without ever talking about God’s grace and mercy. So the person just feels shame and guilt and never wants to come back.
Maybe it took more courage than we realize for that person to even step foot in a church. It took courage for me to go the Dentist after not going for a few years. I had fears and reservations about going but I knew it was important for my health. Maybe the visitor felt the same way. They had fears and worries about what their experience would be like but decide to take the chance anyway. When they take that chance what kind of experience do they have?
The answer to that question is up to all of us who attend church consistently. And by the way, if you are a member of a church, any church, you should attend consistently. If you are a member of a United Methodist church you made a vow (among other promises) that you would support the church with your presence. That means you attend the worship services when you are able to do so…not just when it’s convenient for you. If you feel bad after reading the last three sentences then God must be prompting you to get back in church on a regular basis.
Back to the topic…It is up to those of us who attend church services on a consistent basis to make those who don’t attend services regularly have the best experience possible when they do show up. We are the Church (captiol “C”), we are the body of Christ, it’s up to us to let people know they are loved and welcome when they make the effort to attend our church (little “c”) services. Lets make every effort to be the kind of “C”hurch God wants us to be so that people who attend “c”hurch feel invited, welcomed, included and accepted. As for my part to play…I’m going to start by flossing my teeth!