When I left church Sunday I noticed a guy sitting on a big rock next to our main, street entrance.
As I thought about it on my way home, I put it together. I try not to think in terms of stereotypes… but this guy was a type. A messed up mop for hair, scraggly beard, squinty eyes from hours of starring at screens in the dark, the sort of look that one could assume that he smelled like dirty socks and Fritos… the guy was a gamer, playing Pokémon Go on his iPad.
For reasons beyond my knowledge, the game designers determined that churches would be good locations for Pokémon gyms. I’m guessing that it is because church property is generally accessible to the public and nobody lives there. By the luck of the draw (or Divine providence?) Northshore is a gym. So that means that some of the multiplied millions who are playing the game need to stop by gyms like ours to advance in the game. There has been a steady stream of people stopping by Northshore’s campus, usually the parking lot, since the game launched on July 6.
I thought, "why would anyone sit on that rock by the road?" And then it occurred to me… there is nowhere else to sit, at least not outside. Have you noticed that churches generally don’t have chairs outside of our buildings? It isn’t because we don’t value chairs. Pastors like me are keenly aware of our chairs (I have 242 in our auditorium; I know because I counted them myself). But we are often focused on just those chairs. That is where people get the really good stuff, where they hear me talk and listen to the music I provide. Of course those are the most important chairs. We want people to fill those chairs, several times each weekend.
But what about some chairs by the door?
I wasn’t really a Christian for the first twenty years of my life. I can remember that I didn’t feel all that comfortable sitting in those chairs in church auditoriums. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I didn’t know what to do or how to act. I figured that the people who were comfortable in those chairs were probably judging me.
It could be that people who might not feel comfortable in the auditorium would like to sit by the door.
So I put some chairs by the door. I even took a few more steps, including putting up a few signs, and providing a place to plug in (Pokémon Go really drains batteries).
Within an hour or so, I had my first taker. And later that afternoon, that gamer guy showed up. I talked to him and learned that his name is Bennet; he lives in the apartments across the street. He exclaimed, “You did this? This is awesome! Most people just ignore people like me. Sometimes they tell me to go away, but I can usually tell that they want me to go away without them saying it. But you guys rolled out the red carpet! Thanks!”
I’ve had a number of conversations this week in those chairs.
In this case, I literally put chairs by the door. If you are a church leader, I’d encourage you to do the same.
But there are all sorts of ways that we figuratively put chairs by the door, ways that we let people be part of our church in peripheral ways. There are several of those figurative chairs by the door right at the top of our minds at Northshore these days. We just finished up VBS; we think of VBS primarily as an outreach to our community… a way for kids and parents to check us out. We’re having an outdoor party on Saturday that we’re calling Hot Spot in the Lot, friends and neighbors are welcome to join us for food and fun. And on Monday we are more than doubling the distribution capacity for our food bank as we go to a weekly schedule. These are all figurative chairs by the door, ways to punch big holes in the hard shell that surrounds our church, ways that people can get a glimpse of the kind of people we are and the kind of God we serve.
Let’s be sure to put chairs by the door… welcoming, comfortable places for people to enjoy that might just be a stop on the way to believing and belonging.