Today I went to a place for breakfast that I have been to a couple of times. It is a nice looking restaurant and has an ideal location on the main road in town. The other times I ate at the restaurant things seemed to go fairly well. Since I was in this town for another reason it immediately came to mind as a place to have breakfast. Upon entering the parking lot, I noticed that the restaurant was quite dark inside. Driving slowly by the front door I checked to make sure I had not arrived before time to open. No, the painted sign on the door reassured me that the place should be open. Looking inside through the haze of low lightening I could make out that there were indeed people in the restaurant. Just inside the door is a sign that states: “Please wait to be seated.” Since I like playing by the rules, I dutifully stood there in the semi-darkness, two folks came in behind me ignored the sign and made their way to the nearest booth. Finally a voice from behind the counter instructed me “have a seat wherever you like.” A mental note was quickly made that signs are for strangers, regulars don’t need instructional signs. I took my seat and as I did another lady came running into the restaurant and breathlessly exclaimed: “I got here as quickly as possible.” The ‘regulars’ all began to engage the lady in conversation. I learned by the listening in to the insider conversation, that someone did not show up for work and the boss called her to see if she could come in early and help cover the restaurant. She quickly came to my table and gave me a menu and asked me if I would like a cup of coffee. She took my order and returned with some of what I ordered and some of what she thought I needed. A moment later I pointed out that I did not want hash browns, but did want sausage. Okay she said and went back to the kitchen.
For the first time in my life, I understood what it felt like to not be a regular.
My order was messed up because she did not know my breakfast habits. As the regulars arrived she would yell, “hey Harry you want the usual?” “Yep”, he would respond. I love to drink coffee, but because I sat in a place that was not where the regulars sit, I hardly had my coffee cup filled. The ‘regulars,’ who bunched together in one section of the restaurant, had coffee flowing and lots of laughing.
Now, my point is not to criticize the restaurant, I was not mistreated, I was given breakfast and two cups of coffee, I paid, smiled and left, I had received breakfast but knew I was not a regular. I have no complaints, I received exactly what I paid for, but I do not plan on going back soon. The place is about regulars.
This is probably how most churches I pastored felt to first time folks. We smiled, we greeted, but did we give off an air that this place is for the regulars?
A few signs from the restaurant today that reminded me of what seperates a regular from a guest.
- Inside jokes. There was much hilarity at the tables filled with regulars and the servers. There was good natured humor and jokes, I just did not know any of them or the stories behind them.
- Ignore the signs. I waited patiently for someone to seat me, since I was instructed to do so by the sign. Regulars ignored the sign and ignored me. What signs do we ignore? Worship service 10:30, unless we are having so much fun laughing and talking that we start say about 10:41.
- Coffee is for regulars. I wanted more coffee but I wasn’t in the right place. Notice this Sunday at your fellowship time how many new people are participating. Coffee is mostly for regulars.
- Restaurants and Churches have stated purposes for being. Yet both cater to regulars. Of course they do, you say, ‘remember regulars pay the bills.’
I love the church, through Christ and His church I have been shaped and nurtured. Today I had an experience that I’m concerned many folks have had in churches where I have been the leader. Jesus wants us to love the regulars, but reach out to the guests and seek to bring them in to center of what we do and who we are.
So have another cup of coffee and this week seek to be a blessing to someone who is not just looking for a friendly church but is really looking for a friend.