"Joanie" rang the back doorbell at our church late Saturday afternoon just as I was getting ready to go home. Joanie is an older woman, probably in her 70's (I've never met her before), and, as I welcomed her into the building, she asked if we had any pictures of the "old church". (we built a new, modern building over a year ago and tore down the little, white, steeple, country looking building when we moved into the new one). I said I knew we had some pics, but I didn't know where they were. She looked at me and said, "Figures..."
I introduced myself and extended my hand. She looked at it sceptically for a few seconds ( I swear it was clean), and then reluctantly shook it. I could have told you exactly what was coming next...
"My parents helped build the old building, and I was baptized in it."
"OK. That's pretty neat!"
"I'd really like a picture of the old building before they tore it down and built this ugly building."
So, as I bit my tongue, I took Joanie's name and her number and told her that someone would call her if we found some pictures we could give her. On her way out the door, again she emphasized that she missed the old building and how ugly our new building was.
"Well, Joanie, it's a good thing that what a church building looks like really doesn't matter."
"It matters to me! I can tell you that I'll never come to this church again."
"That's unfortunate, Joanie..."
She was out the door by this time, turning around to say something else to me...before she could get the next words out of her mouth, I again told her we'd call her, have a nice day, and shut the door...
"Coleen" emailed me Sunday afternoon. She had read the story of my wife and I in the local paper a few months ago and had been following along on our blog ever since. She saw that I was going to be telling our story in church this past weekend, and wanted to come, but decided not to because she hasn't been to church in forever. She watched along with hundreds of others online.
"All I can say is Wow! I didn't realize that Church could be like that. The positive energy was amazing. The band was awesome! To see people of all ages and backgrounds come together to worship God, well, I think it has changed my life. Thank you so much for sharing your story with the world, and for bringing God back into my life. I plan to be there next Sunday to share in the celebration of God's love."
We hear from a lot of people like Joanie who are angry with us for tearing down that little white church building and putting this ugly steel box in it's place. They always make sure to let us know how unhappy they are and how ugly our "church" is. Most of them also make sure to tell us that they'll never come to church here ever again. To be honest, most of these people from the older generations.
We also hear from a lot of people like Coleen who visit our church (in person or online) after not having been in a church building for a long time. Nearly every single one tells us how they were totally not expecting what they saw and heard, and they mean that in a good way. They make sure to tell us how "inspired" and "energized" they felt, and how much they want to come back and maybe even bring somebody with them. To be honest, most of these people are also from the older generations.
Two different people, both of whom have experiences and feelings of church from days long ago. But, only one seems to get it...and it's not the one might have originally expected...
Our church is filled with people like Coleen, who had not even thought about church in years before being led to check us out. They play in the band, welcome people on the greeting team and help children learn more about the adventure of God.
I can't think of a single person in our church who reminds me of Joanie. We have some Joanies visit every now and then, and they almost always leave church early and slam the door on their way out, making sure to give us a call or shoot us an email letting us know how ugly our building is, or how loud our music is, etc.
If it weren't for Coleen's email, my conversation with Joanie may have still been making me feel bummed. I couldn't care any less if people find our building ugly...I do care that people don't see anything but an ugly building. Nags Head Church is beautiful, not because of anything else than the God we serve and the love we have for one another and for our community. It's depressing that some people just don't get it, and probably never will. They are missing out on a great adventure.
Fortunately, through Coleen's email, God reminded me of why we're here and who we're impacting, and that I can't stay focused on the few who don't get it.
Who are you impacting?
How much time do you spend focused on the people who don't get it?