You’ll be relieved to hear that I have recently been to the dentist.
Now, confession time. I know I do not go to the dentist as much as I should. One reason is because I am not looking forward to the lecture from the dentist (which doesn’t actually happen) about how I do not go to the dentist as much as I should.
Moreover, having been thru 6 years of orthodontic treatment during my teenage years, I really cannot stand dental pain. This leaves me somewhat in a predicament as my avoidance of the dentist heightens my chance of worse dental pain. As it is, I only went to the dentist because a bit fell off one of my teeth. (It’s all fixed now.) Then there’s the cost for any decent amount of work. I imagine there are many folks out there who avoid dentists for financial reasons.
As I reflect on this, I cannot help think about how similar that is to the way many people view church. Ironically, the dental nurse I got chatting to at the surgery told me how she used to be super-involved in a church when she was young but hadn’t been for years. I wondered if she stayed away because she was fearing some lecture from someone about how she should have been back sooner. Even in my own life, this pastor’s kid actually started skipping the odd Sunday and in spite of going on to years of youth ministry, I never actually attended the teen youth group at my Dad’s church. What got me back to church was, in a manner of speaking, a whopping great spiritual toothache. When I did get involved I re-discovered that yes, the cost of following Jesus was high. Maybe not financially straight away but I think you get where I am going.
Maybe it reflects the way our culture relates to God: a moral inconvenience to the materialistic, utilitarian lifestyle until all of a sudden the bottom falls out of it and it’s at worst his fault, at best his job to fix. Or maybe, it’s because so many people have had so many painful experiences of church that they simply can’t bring themselves to give it another go.
There is a lot of things for people to get nervous about when they visit a dentist.
There may be even more things for people to get nervous about when the visit or indeed re-visit your church.
I bring all these things up because there was one thing about my visit to the Dentist that I wasn’t expecting. (By the way, quick plug: Stender Dental Studio in Falcon are great, check em out if you need toothy things done.)
As I filled out my medical history form, one question with a scale of 1-10 underneath it really stuck out to me. It said:
“Mark on the scale between 1 and 10 how nervous you are about this visit.”
This is an extremely clever question. It’s not just that it’s trying to get information; it’s that it communicates something quite deep about the dentist: that they actually care about how you’re feeling as your sitting in that chair. In case you’re wondering, after some honest thought I answered with a ‘4’. This led to a sit down conversation where I was stepped through every part of the procedure and assured that there would be minimal pain involved. The appointment took longer because of this but no extra charge was accured.
It’s what you might call the personal approach. I did not feel rushed in any way. I felt like the dentist had my best interests at heart and that her time was worth my comfort. Now I’m not (just) writing a review here but pondering how we can be more like my dentist at church.
I wonder if we had a ‘how nervous are you about your visit?‘ form in our info pac that people receive when they come thru the door at church? Would people fill it out? Would they fill it out honestly or tell us what they think we want to hear? Would it be more than just visitors, but also some regulars that would surprise us by filling it out?
I guess this is the main question; if every visitor did fill one out, what would be the average score? I’m guessing it would be far higher than we might expect. I think I have no idea just how nervous people are walking into a church for the first time, or in a long time. No. Utter. Clue. But I imagine they feel like I felt when I went to the dentist.
Assuming that’s the case, what do we as God’s people need to do about it?
As I ponder these things, my mind is a flurry of ideas and suggestions and so might be yours. Maybe the best start is by getting rid of assumptions; such as
- people will know where to sit.
- people will know when to sit/stand
- people people will know the general layout of the building and where the bathroom facilities are.
- people will somehow instinctively know the face that is attached to the name on the random slide telling people to get in contact with person ‘x’ about ministry ‘y’.
- people will somehow know that kids ministries don’t start straight away.
- People will know that their kids should go down the front in view of all the scary adults should they wish to participate in the kids song…..that they wouldn’t know.
- people will somehow know where the ‘boardroom’ is should they want to pray with people beforehand.
- people will somehow know that it’s your responsibility to ensure someone comes and sits next to you.
- people will know that the other people have seats that they normally sit on.
- people will know when to enter the actual church building, that what’s going on in the background beforehand is just a rehearsal……
You get the idea. (Kind of scary when you think thru em!)
When I went to the dentist, the only way I could have been treated better and my nerves about the visit assuaged is if the dentist had literally taken me by the hand.
Maybe you are a door welcomer/usher or ministry leader at your church. Here’s a question: would anyone out there be tempted to write an article on how much they were cared for and their nerves calmed by your ministry/explanations on a Sunday morning?
I think where we end up is the power of inter-personal relationship. Are we willing to walk past our mates, lean in and pursue interpersonal care of folks that maybe look a little confused or overwhelmed when they walk in on a Sunday morning?
That’s what it really means to be a safe. Church.