From taking my car in for its oil change on Friday, I learned something about how to welcome people to a place that’s unfamiliar to them. I’ve never gone there before and it is rather a big sprawling place. When I went to pick up my car, the service manager, without so much as a question from me, did not tell me the way to the billing desk but escorted me there, told me my car would be driven up to the front door in just a moment, told the person at the billing desk who I was, and gave me a friendly pat on the arm as she said, “See you in three months.” I felt like she was really happy to have my business (paltry though it was, especially for a car dealership whose bread and butter is definitely not oil changes) and I’ll be happy to go back there. So simple. No, I am not suggesting congregations provide valet parking (unless your parking lot is not in sight of your building, in which case you should seriously consider it). I’m saying, since I hope that we are happy to see newcomers and want them to be comfortable and come back, we should take a page from a Toyota dealership and treat them that way.
From donating blood, also on Friday, I was reminded that being able to give is deeply satisfying. The keys to feeling that way are the knowledge that the gift is within my capabilities and concrete, vivid evidence that it is making a difference. I am never going to go into a burning building to save a life; knowing that I can save a life by giving a pint of my blood gives me the sense of being critically important that I imagine firefighters experience daily. Oh, and a third key was that it was a challenge, not something I could do so easily that it meant nothing. Translation, for us congregational leaders asking for time or money from members: (1) Don’t ask for so little that the donation requires no real generosity from the giver. Being generous is a wonderful feeling, and they only get it when they’ve stretched. (2) Don’t ask for so much that they can’t manage it, or they’ll feel terribly discouraged and as if they don’t belong. (3) Have a vision for our congregation, a vision of something of great worth that is realizable only by their donations, and show them the connection. (If we don’t have such a vision, we shouldn’t be asking for their money or time.)
From going to the Maker Faire Saturday, I learned that if we lose sight of our deep purpose, people will drift away. I enjoyed it, but it seemed much less focused on what it used to be all about, empowering people to make things, and more on showing them (or selling them) the things others had made. Boo. I can get that at any shopping mall. I’ve proudly told people that my daughter has gone to every Maker Faire since her birth, starting at age two months and excepting only the year we were in Mexico. If it surrenders much more of its vision, I’m not so sure I’ll care anymore about preserving it as a family tradition.