One of the great joys of moving to a new part of the country is discovering a whole new set of regional chain restaurants. You know the kind of place – if you’re from the area, you’ve eaten there hundreds of times but if you aren’t from the area, you’ve never heard of it. Some are really good. Some are really bad. But they are all unfamiliar.
Well, I went to one of those the other day. I was pretty confident my choice would turn out well: I’ve heard a number of my friends say they are going there for lunch, the parking lot was full and there are a lot of locations all over the city. All of this shouts “booming local establishment” in my book. Plus, it’s a Mexican place. I love Mexican food and it’s kind of hard to mess up.
I got there and the place was packed – great sign! I happily stood in line to order, thinking about all of the options I had for my burrito. I finally hit the ordering station and handled it like a champ! Whew! By the time I hit the register, I was feeling pretty confident. You would’ve sworn I’d eaten there hundreds of times. So, I casually told the teenager working the register that I would like an order of chips and salsa with my meal.
Oops. That earned me a look that was equal parts “how did someone so stupid get in here?” and “you’re so pathetic I’m not even sure you can pay for any of this.” So much attitude from someone still in braces! Turns out the salsa is available at a station around the corner. She’s responsible for chips. Not salsa. And I broke the code. And she wanted me to know it.
All I wanted to say was, “Hey, ease up. I’ve never been here before.” Instead I opted for, “Oh, I’m sorry.” What?!? Why am I apologizing? I didn’t do anything wrong. I just didn’t know how things worked. She should have felt bad, not me. But that isn’t how it works, is it? When we’re new and we break the code, it’s really easy for us to feel like we’re to blame. Most of the time that conclusion gets reinforce by the people who do know the code.
Which brings me to my real question: how do new people feel when they come to your church? What if they break the code? Wear the wrong thing? Say the wrong thing? Don’t know where to drop their kids off? Come late? Don’t bring a Bible?
As leaders, are we expecting first time guests every time the church meets? Are we prepared to make them feel welcome? Are we willing to pitch the code and just love people? Or are we more concerned with protecting the code from outsiders?
How we answer those questions has a huge impact on how many of our first time guests become regular attenders and ultimately members. So, when people come to visit your church, go out of your way to show them where we hide the salsa!