I was speaking to someone who was asking for tips on how to grow his relationship with God. When I suggested attending a worship service as one option, he immediately recoiled and said, I definitely won’t do that. There’s some prayer that everyone is supposed to say and I never learned the words, he said. Every time a bible story is read there are these numbers and I’m too embarrassed to ask what they are and what they mean, he said. He wanted to connect with God but there was too much he was supposed to know but didn’t know at that thing called church.
When we went to the Sporting KC game recently we must have had that look in our eye because a man stopped us and asked if it was our first game. He proceeded to take us to a booth and give us a button to wear “my first sporting match”. Perhaps people would be more helpful, explain more of the culture of the game, the unspoken rules and expectations that could make a newcomer feel lost.
Where have we gone wrong in a world where you receive special treatment for being new at a soccer match but we being new at a worship service is too shaming, too intimidating, too threatening to risk? Planet Fitness prioritizes a Judgment Free Zone at their gyms, eliminating the fear of not knowing all the unspoken work out etiquette as a barrier to walking in the door. Even the attorneys who led jury selection when I served jury duty made it a point to create a non judgment environment encouraging us that if you’ve never been on a jury before it’s okay to have questions and need guidance.
Maybe personal connection plays a role - if we have a trusted friend to walk in with that first time, and someone who can answer our questions, translate the rituals, and love with no exceptions. Hopefully they would find a place that is judgment free, explains most of mystery and allows you to participate to the level you’re comfortable without pressure or obligation. Hopefully the risk of doing something new is worth it.
But Church, can we work on our reputation?