Imagine walking into a church for the first time. Perhaps you’re new to the city, or just maybe new to the congregation. You know no one, and no one knows you. People around you are having a great time talking, laughing, and catching up like they’re seeing family or old friends. The church is obviously friendly and has "connection" coursing throughout the lobby, but no one notices you. No one talks to you.
It’s not because they don't like you, or because they’re not friendly, or because they don’t want you at their church. You’re a newcomer, a guest, a first-timer and they don’t really know what to do with you. They’re like blocks - Lego blocks to be exact – who are already all stuck together, and they can’t help but let you sit on the fringe of their “connecting” by yourself. Alone.
Larry Osborne uses the “Lego Block” analogy in his book Sticky Church to address this not-so-friendly friendly church phenomenon. Each Lego block has a specific number of connectors. Some Legos can only accommodate one connection. Some can accommodate three, or four, while others are the size of a table top with the connections to match. Even the cute, friendly looking little Lego guys stenciled like pirates, or cowboys, or Star Wars characters only have two connectors. Every Lego has a limit.
Those people in the lobby at the friendly church? They’re like Legos who have reached their connecting limit. When someone’s "connectors" are full, their capacity to welcome new friendships is greatly diminished, and sometimes even finished all together.
Those of us who have been in the church for a long time must free up some of our "connectors" for new relationships. Where relationships are built, a sense of belonging is fostered, and discipleship can happen – not only for those of us who have been around for years, but for those of us courageous enough to walk through the doors for the first time. All of us, from the most tenured staff pastor to the newest congregant on the membership roster, must choose to make space in our lives for friendliness and acceptance.
One of the most practical ways I see space created in the church for relationship connection is through Small Groups. The power unleashed by small groups of believers learning and growing together can radically transform a church’s culture. When a congregation understands the importance of reaching out - greeting newcomers not with the obligatory church logo mug, but with an invitation to join a small community of believers on someone’s first visit - the spiritual and physical size of the local church will change.
Do we lose touch with our "old" friends? No - but together we recognize our responsibility to intentionally include people who are looking for a congregation to call home.
When a new person sits around my kitchen table sipping coffee and getting acquainted with six or eight other Christians, the chance of them “sticking” is huge. I have been amazed at how often it is at the kitchen table, instead of the altar, where someone realizes their need for Christ. But then again, it’s over that same cup of coffee that we share our burdens and draw strength from this wonderful organism called The Church that we’re part of.
Straightforward. Almost simple. Like Lego blocks.
Dawn Stuemke serves at Calvary Temple in Springfield, IL giving pastoral oversight to Small Groups, Ministry Development, Sunday School, Newcomer Ministry and Greeters. She and her husband Rich love antiquing, working on the remodeling job that never ends, and spending time with the ten most beautiful grandchildren in the world.