2018 brought big changes for my little life. As per the many years gone by and the reviews that live in this dusty corner of the interwebs, I could list all the joys and challenges of the past 12 months. There have been many. I could also reflect on the specific goals I set 12 months ago and reveal how I kinda met some of them and others not at all. But in short, I’ve down my own reflection and goal setting in private – 15+ hours of driving allows you that space. If you’ve been running alongside me in life for a while you’ll know I find it a super helpful process to set vision for the year with realistic goals and tactics to set me off in the right direction. And so I’ve set some for 2019. Feel free to ask me about them. But for now I bring you this brief reflection, something I’ve been pondering after spending a significant portion of money, time and energy ‘travelling’ this year: Each month brought challenges that pushed me to reach for something more dependable than my own perceived strength. I’ve been reminded by the intricacy of the creator God and his vast love for the world and its people, including me. We can easily fill a life with global travels, slaving away at the 9-5, looking and planning for the next adventure. Looking to 2019, I want to find more balance between exploring new places and actively participating in the place i call ‘home’. What gain is it to travel the world in pursuit of experiencing and understanding it, if we never stop to part of shaping it, losing sight of who we are in it? Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28) Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
Hamish Blake made a little Flipagram of his wife Zoe Foster Blake and the literal+figurative hats she regularly wears. Spotify suggested some female artist playlists I may be interested in. Virgin Australia ‘grammed an all women crew who recently flew Sydney-Adelaide. David Jones launched a new ‘At the DJ table’ video content series “featuring an incredible group of Australian women.” The NSW Police Force posted a ‘shout out’ with a photo of women officers marching. My old boss and dear friend posted a pic of the old office crew decked in purple attire. Mike Baird announced the NSW Public Service was now 100% flexible for all senior staff. Sisters are doing it for themselves. On International Women’s Day, we wanted to share this great shot of our all-female flight crew taking the reins on a trip from Sydney to Adelaide recently. A photo posted by Virgin Australia (@virginaustralia) on Mar 7, 2016 at 2:06pm PST My commute and lunchtime social media scroll sessions today were filled with articles, photos, quotes and statements of support for International Women’s Day. And so it should. Today is a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women – locally, nationally and globally. It’s been celebrated in varying degrees for more than a century and remains an opportunity to demonstrate how we value 49.6% of our world population, the same proportion who continue to struggle with structural and cultural inequality. It’s also a platform to bring pertinent gender issues to the forefront. Brands, corporations, government and media agencies all celebrated differently. This weekend there were women’s fun runs and triathlons, today there were breakfasts, policy announcements, advertisements, social media posts and editorials. Their support of women was unquestionable. However, there was one key institution absent from the celebrations. The church. I used my lunch break to extensively search the internet – in hope. I trawled through the Facebook and Twitter channels of notable pastors, large churches and Christian organisations. I looked on key websites for opinion editorials or blog articles. I looked for anything or anyone recognising today, even just a humble #internationalwomensday. Here’s what I found: –          Michael Jensen shared this post on the value and role of men and women. ‘For Christians, woman aren’t property or baby makers. We’re witness to the life of Jesus Christ in our bodies…. Posted by Michael Jensen on Monday, March 7, 2016   –          John Dickson took the opportunity to share and challenge the doctrinal position held by the Sydney Anglican Diocese on women preaching. This International Women’s Day might be a good moment to revisit what was once (up until about 1990) the standard… Posted by John Dickson on Monday, March 7, 2016   –          Eternity magazine online re-posted an Open Doors article on women in Iraqi refugee camps.   Nothing from Australia’s largest church Hillsong. (Although it is their second of three women’s conferences today, so I’d be surprised if they didn’t do something with the 5000+ in attendance.) Nothing from some of Sydney’s largest churches. Nothing from my new church in Brisbane. Nothing from the leaders of Australia’s churches. It makes me wonder, why is the church not joining the rest of society in celebrating women? We live in a day that equality is high on the agenda: be it gender, marriage or economic. Further, we live in a day that society is very critical of the church. And for good reason, the church, as an institution, does not have such a great track record with inclusion and transparency. The same sex marriage conversation is evidence enough. The inclusion of ‘to submit’ in marriage vows brought the biblical role of women in marriage into the spotlight a few years ago. And even in February, ABC deemed it newsworthy to publish an article on the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney’s response to a question on gender equality at the annual prefect ceremony. The students were torn in how to reconcile his comments and the empowering words of their teachers, and society. I can understand why. Women make up half the population and close to 60% of the Australian church. Be it conscious or unconscious, the decision for the church to neglect the largest international day celebrating women adds propensity to the argument that the church doesn’t value women equally. See in the church failing to recognise the importance of day, it fails in joining the rest of our society is demonstrating we value and celebrate women and their role in our communities. And while men largely lead the church, a theological conversation I’m not having here, today was an opportunity for men and women. An opportunity for brothers and sisters alike to rally around their sisters past, present and future. Celebrating International Women’s Day is about saying to women “we love, care, appreciate, support and need you”. It’s saying it to every woman as she seeks equality in her life as a daughter, sister, mother, wife, worker, volunteer, teacher, nurse, truck driver, policewoman, children’s worker, pastor, student minister or corporate executive. At a personal level, I know my church values women. When a sister and I raised our frustrations that the past 4 video testimonies at church had been men, my campus pastor said he shared them and knew the next 4 would be women. If only they could be more equally distributed. And again, when deciding on making it my new home church, I shared the lack of women involved in the services bothered me. It concerned him also. He shared the problem was often having enough women willing to be involved. Taking time to celebrate women encourages women to continue on as they are, to look and push for opportunities, to enable (with words of affirmation and training) our sisters to be bold and serve, but also shows young girls to aspire to take active roles in their church. It also encourages our brothers to look to publicly and privately encourage, acknowledge and support women in the church. I hope the church values women, and I mourn the decision of friends to leave the church and the faith because they don’t believe so. But we need to hear it and see it to believe it. Women have played a huge role in the history of the church. Women continue to play a critical role in the church. Literally. Without women the church would more than halve. Celebrating women today shows the future generations that the church does indeed recognise equality of men and women, irrespective of how scripture is interpreted and played out in denominations and individual churches. We need today to remind us we need to pray, encourage, train and nurture women to continue to be active in the church, for Christ’s glory. When I ask the question, ‘why isn’t the church celebrating women?’ I am being deliberately provocative. But we need to be provoked.     As a post-script here are some Christian women I think are worth celebrating today: –          Florence Young, my great great aunt who led evangelistic outreaches to the Polynesian workers at her brothers’ sugar mills, served with China Inland Mission and established the South Sea Evangelical Mission –         Bobbie Houston, Hillsong cofounder who spearhead the Sisterhood ministries changing the way women meet together around the gospel –          Raechel Myers, co founder of She Reads Truth, a daily devotional website used by millions of women (and now men ‘hereadstruth.com’) regularly –      My dear friends A, H, E all currently understand ministry traineeships of various forms   Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
I don’t drink coffee. In fact I don’t drink any hot drinks. (I like to think of it as a financial saving rather than social faux pas.) But what I do enjoy is breakfast. I like it a lot. But I don’t just go wandering around the streets of Brisbane looking for a new café to try out. I wouldn’t want to waste my Saturday/Sunday morning and my coin on some soggy French toast, or sub-par poached eggs. Further, as a non-coffee drinker, it infuriates me that some cafes can proceed without offering any non-caffeinated beverage alternatives. It’s a highly researched activity. How do I do my research? Lifestyle and review sites and blogs: Urban List, Weekend Edition, Zomato and smaller foodie blogs. And then of course there are personal recommendations. Before I arrive somewhere I know from the hungry souls gone before me whether the service is a strength or downfall, the vibe casual hipster or all hail organic free range cold press organic hemp wearing hipster, or perhaps just whether the French toast is even worth trying at all. I know this from the star rating, or equivalent, and the comments left behind. Review sites have changed the way I choose my breakfast cafes, my post-work watering holes and even which food processor I should buy. I could continue with another example from my day job about TripAdvisor and how it’s instrumental in consumers planning their holidays…but I’m hoping you’re with me in understanding the validity and necessity of review sites in ensuring I only experience the best. However, there is one huge gaping hole: Church reviewing websites. After moving to Brisbane a few months ago I shared my experience visiting churches. They are two of the most read pieces on this sporadic little corner of the interweb. I did a lot of research but still it took me visiting 8 churches to decide to go back to the fourth one I visited. Would a review site have saved me some time? I could have read others experiences and determined if it was worth the investment/effort. Last weekend when I was back in Sydney-town losing my wisdom (teeth), I visited the church plant of a few of my friends. It’s in a huge new suburb in development close to Camden. It was a joy to be with them for their launch back in November and, sadly after some delays with council, Sunday was their first week back in their ‘hub’ aka industrial warehouse. One of my friends approached me at the end and said he’d love to grab my thoughts on visiting, particularly as they’re now permanently in their building. It’s his intention to work out where the cracks are and to plug them quickly. He was asking me to review his church! As someone with little entrepreneurial fervour, (to the point I struggle to identify the purpose of this blog in order to grow it) I realised this could be my new thing. I could set up a website, visit churches and review them. Church mystery shopping. Church consulting. In time, I could grow it and have other contributors and even open it up to the general public. How efficient looking for a new church could become and, as some astute business owners do, churches could identify the cracks in their church to ensure visitors have the best experience possible. My church review star rating system? Holy hands. My website name? Scroll up… but promise me your won’t steal it. I don’t want to be poor Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and lose my idea to a zealous Zuckerburg-type. But here’s the thing: while some succeed and others fail, churches aren’t a business. They’re not a service provider that is looking to ensure its attendees have the best possible experience in order to generate new and repeat visitation and loyalty. Churches are a community, a family, an eclectic community of brothers and sisters looking to share the forgiving news of Jesus Christ and emulate him to bring justice, mercy and love to those around us. But churches should be in the business of pointing people to Jesus through everything from how to get there, the people one meets, the words spoken and the coffee served. Churches should want people to have a good, culturally appropriate experience in order for people to feel like they wanted, loved and belong. But I see a church review site similar to reviewing your Christmas day festivities. Everyone’s family has a crazy aunt/uncle who they think surpasses the craziness of all others. A cousin who somehow just doesn’t seem to fit in and an old, not-sure-how-they’re-actually-related-to-you distant relative so far off their rocker you’re just not sure what they’re doing at your gathering. It’s the talk around the office before the holidays, but it’s not the kind of thing you ever want to get back to poor aunt Gertrude. And I haven’t even started on reviewing the food! It’s potentially dangerous and relationally damaging. The thing is there are a few church review sites already in existence (Shipoffools.com, Churchrater.com, Churchfinder.com). While I couldn’t say for certain it’s not the daggy web graphics, they don’t seem to be the next Urban List of churches. They comment on everything from the length of the talk to how the coffee was. But don’t hear me wrong, although I’m not about to go and buy a domain and DIY a website, I do think there is merit in churches analysing their interactions with new and ongoing visitors and spurred on to consider building their community. The Apostle Paul wrote a fair few letters to the new churches of modern day Greece and Turkey commenting on their behaviour, challenging and commending them for their, for example, community outreach, or lack there of.  His words didn’t always go down well. Late last year I emailed all the churches/pastors of the churches I visited. I thanked them for having me, let them know I had found a new church and shared my blogs with them. I was anxious. It wasn’t all good news. In some cases, I did have bad experiences. And although I was careful not to identify the churches I visited online directly, it would be possible to work it out. Each of the churches I visited were pointing people to Jesus. But some just did a better job at getting me to church and feeling part of a community. I was telling the people responsible for each of the churches what it felt like to visit! Facilitating a means of commentary has the potential to get ugly; it’s the curse of the old school comments box. But a comment box that’s actually a public community notice board. Is broadcasting the experience of visiting a church for others to read pointing others to Jesus, pointing a society who are fairly critical of the church to the reason why we meet as a church? I’m not so sure it is. I will share my thoughts with my friend on his church because I love him and the others involved, I want it to grow and see lives changed because of Jesus’ love in that new suburb. However it’s not something I’m going to blog about, nor advertise my reviewing services. A church is where two or more gather (Matt 18:20) which means there are always at least 2 people who can consider what it would look like to join the gathering and make it to happen. It’s just whether those 2 people are selfishly worried about solidifying their place or outwardly focused in ensuring everyone has a place. Be one of the latter.     Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
Welcoming is more than thrusting folded paper at the entrance Read Part 1 Church welcoming. Sigh. It’s the roster that no one wants to be on. I’m a long time avoider of it. Let’s pretend it’s because I hate hugs and self-conscious about handshakes and awful at remembering names, so all I can offer is a big enthusiastic, drawn out “hey!” upon one’s arrival and a folded A4 sheet that I know they’ll probably only read during a lapse of concentration in the sermon, then fold put in their hand bag and never look again…ever (Unless you’re older than 50 and then you’ll probably stick it on the fridge where the last 10 weeks are also placed). Ah church communications, I digress. The truth is I hate church ‘welcomers’. I mean, I love them, the people standing there, smiling and pushing paper. Huge hearts. I love them. But I still hate ‘welcomers.’ I hate welcomers because by us giving them a title, we delegate them a role, one that most willingly relinquish. “They’re the welcomers, so I can go find my seat and chat to the people that I know” or “They’re the welcomers, so they can get to church early to speak to visitors so I’m good to rush in during the first few songs, and sit beside my friend.” Put aside what you think welcoming looks like and think inclusive. Reflect on your own personal actions at church, and then the actions of those around you (read: friends) and ask: “Are my actions enabling others to be and feel included?” (Note: there is a difference between perception and reality). After two months visiting churches in search of a new church family, I think too often we get stuck in the routine of church and forget there may be people who have no idea what is going on, struggle to connect and often, sadly, feel or are actually excluded. Me and my big storytelling mouth are right up there with the unintentional exclusion. Being a visitor has allowed me to remember what it’s like to be welcomed and, the opposite, ignored. This is part two of what no one tells you about visiting churches. Join me considering our own actions and failings. I hope it makes you, church regular, stop and reconsider how you can look to the periphery with more intention and confidence than previously. And, you, church seeker, visit churches with an open-ness and willingness to be welcomed, in whatever form it comes in.   It starts with having a plan and executing it with purpose Intention. ‘Live life with intention and integrity.’ If I was the type of person who liked life mottos, that would be mine (but with ‘for Jesus’ tacked on the end for good measure). I told you last time that I didn’t just roll up out of bed and wander in to church. It was a highly researched, planned and executed adventure (x 8). Here’s the next reality: each hesitation, eye contact and apparent loitering was largely intentional. I wanted to talk to you so I tried to make eye contact: during the children’s departure to kids’ church and/or the general ‘welcoming’ moment: “say hello to people around you.” I stood alone in the middle of the foyer/café/drinks stand (without looking at my phone) waiting for someone to talk to me. I intended to wait for 5 minutes before leaving. Sadly, I left three times without anyone talking to me. Perhaps I was a super intentional church seeker because I did genuinely want to find a new church. I hope the visitors to my future church will wait as long as I did! But intention applies to church ‘regulars’ too. Some of my friends have been blessed by my soliloquys on this topic before, but being inclusive looks like having a plan when you walk into church, when you have the general ‘welcome’ moments and then immediately after church. Most importantly in the 2 minutes after the service. Scope out your territory and have a strategy. Don’t leave the greeting and meeting to the ‘welcomers’, the pastor or heck, even the extroverts. Don’t let it be an after thought as you see the visitor walk out the exit…most likely 2 minutes after the services ends if no one speaks to them. Here are 10 steps you can take to being inclusive: Get to church early. Smile. (I’m not kidding about this one. Why does church have to be so serious?) Say hello to everyone. Even those you don’t know. We are a family. Think offensive lines. Last week I told you finding parking, the door and then a seat were real challenges. Make them easy. Position people for each of those stages. It will also allow ‘greeters’ to transition into conversations with visitors and tag team with church members who are there (Note: Point 1). Look out for people who awkwardly walk through the door trying to figure out what the heck is going on, or sit down and are reading the church bulletin with the level of concentration one does their tax file declaration. (No church regular reads the news sheet in detail unless the teaching is going too long). If you see someone unfamiliar sitting alone, move seats and sit next to them. Write their name down so you remember it in an hours’ time. Fight the temptation to talk to your friends at church and prioritise visitors as soon as church is over. (Bonus tip: have a coffee with your bff/s before church so you don’t have to catch up after church). If someone else is chatting to a visitor, join them. It’s exhausting, tag team. Relieve them so they can go and discuss whose turn it is to bring supper to bible study etc. Introduce them to others. This may look like others in similar life stages or interests, and your pastor.   I’m as nervous as you While some people have heightened sensitivity to subtle social cues, it is not a prerequisite for being a good conversationalist. Talking and listening is a necessary evil in greeting and meeting people and inviting them in to a church community. Talking to strangers comes easy to some and terrifying for others. Small talk can be awkward. What if I forget their name? What if they give me one-word answers? What do I ask them first? Can I ask them why they’re here? How many questions are acceptable before it becomes an interrogation? Small talk can be tricky but consider this: I’m standing in the middle of a group of people looking for someone to talk to. I know no one. I don’t know where the door is. I don’t know how many people are going to show up. I didn’t know that this church writes all it’s own music and although I am fairly across Christian music I wouldn’t know any of the words and the tall person in front blocked half the screen. I didn’t realise that you transitioned straight from prayer to worship. I still had my eyes closed. It’s now the ‘take a break and say hello to someone moment’ but everyone turned to someone else. I’m wearing a skirt that is on the work appropriate fence and all the other women are wearing knee length skirts. I’m all alone. You think you’re nervous. I can tell you they’re nervous. After my first few visits I realised that some people had no idea how to talk to a new person. They fumbled their way through questions. I’d catch their eye but they’d look away. Or they’d approach, say hello and then remain silent. In answering their single closed question, it took a number of questions to get to the crux of my visit. Often I could see they were struggling. I don’t find conversations hard so by the third church I had a little spiel to assist us all: “Moved from Sydney to Brisbane for work. Looking for a new home church. Living in West End. Checking out the local churches.” It opened a few angles for conversations. Accept that both visitors and regulars are nervous and brush up on your conversation skills: Listen for common topics of conversation. It doesn’t have to be a one-way interrogation, share about yourself. Think tag team. It’s exhausting so tag in and out. “Let me introduce you to xxx, she also (insert: common interest, talking point)” It also means I get to meet more people. Think about your opening question. Make it an open one. “Is this your first visit?” is closed and can potentially be awkward if it’s not. Try: “Hi, I’m xxx, I don’t think we’ve met.” Read this TED article: ‘How to turn small talk into smart conversation‘   It’s not a fine line between stalking and follow up My previous church had yellow A6 ‘welcome’ cards that were in little holders on the back of the church pews. I’m guilty of using them to write my week’s to do list during the sermons. They asked for a name, number, email, service attended. They were out dated (think photocopy of a photocopy), often a little crumpled and very rarely was any direction given regarding their use. I’m not even sure where they were supposed to go. Despite their neglect, they are valuable. We live in a world that our every move, or at least every website visit and 5k run is tracked. I’m sure every second shop has my email, DOB and mobile number. But despite our personal details being in so many databases, we’ve (the church) has shied away from asking for personal information. Asking visitors to fill out a contact card seems intrusive. Reality check: there are no compulsory fields on a paper card. If they don’t want to, they don’t have to. But not having a connect card, or similar, says you don’t care about following up on my visit. Three churches I visited gave some instructions as to how to connect with them. A well-designed form was provided, the form pointed out during the service and instructions given as to what to do with it. I filled them out each time. Of those, two followed up with an email. One church pastor emailed the following day introducing me to another young professional. But the surprise was the card (albeit a cheesy DaySpring card) in the mail – an actual hand written card. It was two weeks after I moved and no one had my address. Not even my parents. It was a pleasant surprise. The other church followed up with an email from a young professional. It was two and half weeks after my visit. Enough said. I never heard from the third. The five remaining churches never asked me for my details. Although to their credit two church pastors provided me their phone number. Another added me on Facebook through a mutual connection. They left the ball in my court. I contacted one; he invited me to dinner and bible study. I went. He followed up offering to help out with settling in. Back in my uni ministry days we had connect weeks. It was a three-week period following OWeek. Hundreds of people would visit my Christian group’s stall and complete a connect card. Hundreds. The connect cards were assigned to faculties, then from faculties to individuals. I spent many February nights calling 20+ people. Yes, calling with an actual phone. I could have emailed, but I was able to have a conversation. Find out more about them. I often met them for coffee. I often had to call three times before I caught them. Almost every single time the person on the other end of the phone call was surprised by my call. First it was the lost art of letter writing, but now it’s the phone call. If I’m completely open, I craved someone to talk to in those early few weeks. Let’s not forget the power of personal connection. Email is easy. Text messages aren’t intrusive. Yes, a phone call interrupts someone’s day. But that’s the purpose – you want to talk to them. Let’s not be afraid of the phone.   The pastor is important, but not that important I met the pastor at 5 of the 8 churches I visited. One was absent, another announced his departure that service, and the other was Hillsong – so understandable. Each of the men (sigh) were incredibly warm. They cared about me. They asked me where I’d come from. Some asked what I was after. They listened. They looked me in the eye. They smiled. I appreciated them taking the time to talk to me. But as much as I appreciated meeting the pastor, I really wanted to meet other people. I wanted to know about you because you would be part of my family. Yes, the pastor would be leading us (which is why although it was a great church, I wasn’t about to join a church losing it’s pastor without a replacement), but I wanted to get a feel of the vibe. Students? Professionals? All married? Any eligible bachelors? It was evident at all but three of the churches I visited, that many of the people who spoke to me were unsure of what to do next. How did they move me, a church keen bean, from first time visitor to visiting again? One church stood out in terms of inclusiveness. Each person I spoke to invited me to the lunch the young people were having after church. They introduced me to others. They tag teamed well. But no one asked me for my number. The pastor is important. But having other trained equipped people ready to connect with visitors is also important.     Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t have a horrible experience visiting churches. It has largely been a positive experience, a fruitful one. But the there is so much more that can be done. The church is a family, God-willing a growing one. Let’s work together to build inclusive churches. Understanding every virtual and physical touch point and making sure they encourage connectivity rather than exclusion or just ignorance.   Thanks for waiting for Part 2. The third and final instalment will come in another month or so: What no one tells you about visiting churches // Part 3 We’re all baggage carriers. Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
Six weeks ago I uprooted my life and moved cities. Along with friends, family, netball team and job, I also left my home church. I withdrew from my responsibilities on rosters, resigned from an elected position on the church board, and farewelled many – those I knew by name and others just by their encouraging face I saw from the front. Finding a new local church is a priority in my new city, almost equal to Operation: amigos. (You can read what I think about only making friends in church.) In the last six weeks, I’ve visited eight churches. Different brands, different sizes, different buildings. In fact, of the eight, only two met in a purpose-built building, one of which was a warehouse (FYI, that was the hipster church. It also had wooden pallets. #hipster). I grew up in the church and I’ve been part of a number over my life, the last for the better part of a decade. I’ve served in many church and parachurch organisations, some that involved visiting other churches. In summary, I feel pretty comfortable in most brands/labels/denominations of church. But that doesn’t make first time visits (with the aim of finding a new home) easy. I’ve learnt so much about the local church over the past few weeks. I’ve been encouraged. I’ve been disheartened. And I’ve been challenged. I chatted with a few friends who have just been through, or going through the same process before writing this. These are our shared reflections. I hope you gain from them. NB: Don’t read “I” as Melanie Pennington. Read “I” as “potential visitor to my church”   It’s hugely encouraging Irrespective of the number of people, the style of music or the volume of said music, I knew I stood with brothers and sisters. I may not have known their names, but through the songs we sung, the book we read and the prayers offered, it was evident we shared a common goal. I stand united with them. The local church is not defined by its geography, but by the necessity it is in our lives. You can move cities, but still the local church remains – a people meeting together, supporting each other in one name, for one purpose. Jesus. Learning: Be defined by Jesus in everything you do   Parking is the first hurdle, finding the front door the second, a seat the third I almost gave up on a church because I couldn’t find a legal parking spot. In the end I parked illegally, walked to the entrance and asked where to park. I ended up paying for parking because the 10mins I had allowed to park and find the entrance had lapsed and the service had started. Another church I drove by twice before I spotted a small A-frame with the church logo. Three others I wandered around looking for the entrance to the auditorium. I was inside the building, but the challenge was to find the door! Another, I arrived about 5 mins late (see above) and I had to sit in the front row because there were no seats left. And it wasn’t that it was full, it was there weren’t enough seats put out. And I wasn’t about to haul a seat off the stack. Learning: Visitors parking Instructions/maps for where to park Directional signage Welcomers/ushers should be more than paper movers   If you’re not online, you’re virtually invisible My old church’s website sucked. Before I left I was helping build a new site from scratch. It’s not easy. I know websites and they aren’t easy. Who is it for? What information does it need? Who will update it? So much to think about, but here’s the hard truth: it’s the first place I went. Actually, Google was: “evangelical / Christian / bible-based / bible + church + suburb.” If you don’t have a website, I can’t find you. Once on the site, I want to know where you are, when you meet, which service is best for me, where to park, what you believe and who your staff are. I also care about your Facebook page. If you don’t update it, delete it. Learning: Go to your church website. Count the amount of clicks it takes to find the service times. Meet in a school hall, warehouse, or performance space? Submit a location and listing on Google maps. Update your Facebook page or delete it. Really. Go to communicatejesus.com. It is one of the best resources I’ve found on church websites (and social media).   Time is money valuable Unfortunately people are busy (but not me!) and time matters. Starting and finishing (or telling people when it will finish) on time shows you value them. Visiting a church is huge ordeal. It takes time and energy to find a church, research it and then plan a visit. It then takes more time to find a parking spot/entrance/seat and strategically plan how long before the service you will arrive. Lingering in the foyer before a service is awkward. Sitting alone in church is awkward. Be assured I have thought about how long before your service I arrive. And waiting 13 minutes for your on-the-hour service to start only puts a bad taste in my mouth. Flipside: I’ve also timed my arrival to allow myself enough time to find entrance/seat and should someone notice my visit, talk to me. If only a regular arrived on time/early to greet me. Learning: Valuing people means valuing their time Start when you say you’re going to start (or explain why you started late. “Windows decided it wanted to update at 10.28am this morning”) Finish when you say you’re going to finish Get to church early. (This is a huge one for me. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t caused my minister’s a small amount of stress over the years because I would arrive late when rostered to be involved in the service).   I could go on, and I will go on. (Did you notice the ‘Part 1’? Bahaha) Not as a rebuke, but as a gentle and hopefully helpful reminder about what it’s like being new. I am also writing this so I can revisit it in 6 months, 12 months and heck, God-willing, 6 years time to remind myself how I can be like Jesus in my local church. Standing with open arms, ready to accept and pursue anyone the Spirit stirs to visit the local church.   Stay tuned for Part 2: Welcoming, it’s more than standing at the door thrusting folded A4 sheets at people  Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)