My son Zach and I went to our first rodeo last night. What I’m about to write next will sound like a contradiction at best, definitely paradoxical. It was fun. We were bored.
A word of introduction; Shawnee, Oklahoma plays host to the International Finals Youth Rodeo. This is a great event for our city. Young people from all over the world know about Shawnee. It obviously brings people together. The rodeo is a good thing for Shawnee and for the people who participate. Going to it was fun. It was fun to shop for our cowboy hats at the trade show before the evening events kicked off. It was fun to see the different people who attended. I saw one of my parishioners on the way in, and chatted. Two of my other parishioners were honored for their long time volunteering for the rodeo. I know absolutely nothing about horses, but they were beautiful. It was fun!
At the same time, it was boring. Those were Zach’s words. “I’m bored.” When we left and were walking out to our car, he explained to me why he thought it was boring. He liked the events. He liked watching the cowgirls and cowboys ride their horses, rope calves, and race around the poles. Definitely the bucking broncos were exciting. But he didn’t understand it. He didn’t get it, so he was bored. So was I.
What I didn’t know about rodeos is that there is a whole culture built up around this. It has its own lingo. Clothing lines that I’d never heard of, like Cinch, Justin and Cruel, are huge at the rodeo! I figured out that they were going for the best times in the competitions. How long can you stay on a bucking horse? How fast can you rope a calf? How quickly can you race your horse around poles and not knock any of them down? The competitors and their families and it seemed like most of the folks who were there seemed to have been immersed in this life their whole lives. But what about Zach and I? We were clueless.
You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? What about the church? Do you think the people who visit our churches leave as confused and bewildered as Zach and I were at the rodeo? I bet they do. And I bet the complaint that church is boring to some may in fact stem from feeling clueless, and worse, excluded.
It’s overly simplistic to say that all the antagonism I see in our larger culture against the church comes from merely being bored by a Sunday service. But what about feeling excluded? Ignored? Unwelcomed? I don’t think those of us who grew up immersed in the language of church realize that there are many other people who just don’t understand what we’re saying. They may have a genuine interest in being part of a community of faith, but they come to church and don’t get it. So they leave bored, frustrated and disinclined to visit again.
Let’s not forget the power of being welcomed either. In today’s typical church, any church, we assume we’re friendly and welcoming because we’re friendly and welcoming to one another. That doesn’t necessarily translate or transfer to someone new.
In the summer of 2006 my family went on a sabbatical to Michigan. After we'd returned to our home in Iowa, one sunny Sunday morning the kids and I decided to visit the large church across the street from our house. We had no other church commitments that morning and it seemed like a good time to try something new. As I said, this was our neighbor church. Across the street from the home we lived in for 11 years. This was a relatively small town. Neighbors knew one another. In spite of this no one, except one of the three pastors, said hello to us. No one welcomed us. No one offered their hand. No one invited us to stay for fellowship or asked our name or greeted us in anyway. We were that church’s neighbors! And we were excluded. Although that church was a different denomination, the language wasn’t a barrier, because we are church goers. But the lack of welcome was.
My point is a simple one. We bemoan the decline in membership in every mainline denomination in this country. But what is it about church that really attracts people? I don’t write this as a way of saying that churches need to jump on the do-any-kind-of-worship-or-program-there-is-in-the-desperate-hope-we’ll-get-new-members bandwagon. However I do believe that we have to welcome critique about the welcome we give people. I believe we have to talk about the language we use. I think we have to think about what we do or don’t do that makes people get it or just leave bored.
I realized that had someone who spoke rodeo sat with Zach and I last night and taken the time to explain the events, what was happening, what was at stake, it would have contributed exponentially to our experience and fun. Maybe being willing to do the same thing during worship or fellowship or in a phone call or over a cup of coffee with someone seeking God might help them go from clueless to curious. Maybe if we shared the love and joy and passion we find in our faith in everyday terms, a life or two just might be transformed. Maybe it will be our own.
|We do look cool in our hats!|