There are times when I think the church should resemble a used car.
Too often in the church, we worry about little things as if the church is a new car.
You know how it is with a new car…We don’t let the kids eat or drink in a new car because we don’t want to get a stain on the seats. We try to avoid driving through puddles because we don’t want to get the car dirty. We park far away at the supermarket because we don’t want our doors dinged by other shoppers. We don’t allow certain items or people in the new car because we want to keep that new car smell as long as we can. And the list goes on and on…
But, as soon as dad spills a little coffee, we begin to relax. Next thing you know, the kids are downing Happy Meals, Capri Sun’s, and M&M’s in the backseat. Of course, we strive to do our best to keep the car clean and presentable. However, we’re not as uptight about little spills and some dirty floor mats. The car is a tool that is meant to be used.
Now, when we buy a used car, we still like to keep it neat and clean. However, we tend not to worry as much because someone else had already stained the seats and floor mats and had a couple of door dings at the supermarket. We realize more quickly that the car is a tool meant to be used.
The temptation in the church is to treat it like a new car, whether it’s brand spanking new or has been around for 100+ years. We worry about stains on the carpet. We worry about candle wax on the pews or chairs. We get nervous if the pastor, praise band, choir, or parents of young children bring drinks or snacks into the sanctuary. “What if they spill something?”
But, the church building is a tool intended to be used. The church building, like a car, will get a bit messy if it is being used by the church family. Now, just because the building shows signs of use does not mean it’s dirty. We should work hard to make sure it’s clean, presentable, and that the bathroom’s don’t smell like dirty diapers. But, stains on the carpet, marks on the walls, and other indications of use mean that the church is being used. And, shouldn’t that be the goal?
Sometimes we get upset when others bring their coffee into the sanctuary. We say things like, “Don’t they know that bringing coffee into the sanctuary is disrespectful?” Here’s the deal, I hope our churches are reaching people who don’t know how to “play church.” I hope our churches are reaching folks who are not well versed in church etiquette.
I’ve always been “that guy” in churches I’ve served. When I walk into the church, you can pretty much guarantee there will be a cup of coffee in my hand. We talk about the church being “the family of God”. I don’t know about your family, but when I get together with my family, we don’t have too many rules about where we drink our coffee (of course, my mother’s family was from Kentucky, so…).
I have a friend who, on the first Sunday in the new sanctuary of his church, took a cup of coffee and poured it out on the new carpet. He said, “This building is meant to be used. It’s meant to get dirty. We shouldn’t be so focused on our building that we fail to show hospitality to our guests.”
A vital congregation will show signs of being used. There will be stains on the carpet. There will be evidence of candle wax on the pews. There will be scuff marks on the paint. And we should celebrate that! It doesn’t mean the church is dirty. It means that we aren’t so uptight that we don’t let people get comfortable and be themselves. We allow kids to be kids. We allow parents to be parents. We allow people to be people!
I don’t know about you, but I believe the folks who spill coffee, drip candle wax, and scuff up the paint are more important than the carpet, the pews, and the walls.
In some ways, it’s about hospitality. If we have too many rules, we run the risk of making people focus more on whether or not they are doing things wrong that they might not connect with God and others. When folks come to church, they should be able to slow down and relax. They shouldn’t have to worry too much about whether or not they are breaking long-standing rules that really don’t have anything to do with connecting with Jesus.
Maybe churches should just stock up on Scotch Guard and stain remover!
The other day, I received a catalog that included the following sign:
Is this really the message we want to send to our members, visitors, and community? Does this indicate that the church is a tool to be used for connecting people with Christ and the community? Does this indicate that all are welcome or that we are a “members only” club? Does this indicate that we want you to make yourselves at home?
Just some things I’m thinking about on a Friday afternoon!