What is your church known for?

November 13th, 2014

During the ratings dominating days of the talent finding reality show “American Idol,” my favorite part of the season was the beginning. I absolutely loved the awful auditions and even more, I loved the judges' reactions and comments that followed the train wreck. Good 'ol Simon Cowell was never one to hold back punches. He'd share his thoughts and then some.

The thing that always got me was how offended and shocked singers were at the negative feedback their performance received. They could barely hold a note in key, yet they were convinced — convinced — they were the next best thing in the music industry. They'd leave the audition cursing a storm up and down claiming that the judges wouldn't know talent if it hit them upside the head.

They genuinely believed they were great singers while the judges and the rest of America saw the reality — they were far from it.

How we perceive ourselves can be different from how others perceive us. Which led me to think about my church.

If you ask anyone from our church what our church is like — what our church is known for — they'll tell you, without skipping a beat, that we are a welcoming church. That we are a loving church; that we are filled with warm, kindhearted folks; that we are a missional church trying to embody the heart of Christ; that we are a generous church; that we are a praying church. And I believe we are all those things.

But I began to wonder, how much of those things are we really when we're the ones describing ourselves in those ways? How welcoming are we when we're the ones saying we're welcoming? Isn't that sort of similar to someone saying that they are the most humble person they know?

A few months after I was appointed to my current church, I attended a gathering of clergy serving in our community. In the fellowship time before the meeting, I began to introduce myself to the other clergy present.

Apart from my United Methodist colleagues, not one of them knew where my church was located. There's a Catholic church that we share a name with and most of them thought I was talking about the Catholic church.

I began to meet people in our community, particularly in the coffee shop near my church. No one knew where I served. One of the baristas lives on the same street as my church and she had no idea where my church was. I told her we were located next to the elementary school.

"Oh! I jog by that place all the time! I had no idea that was a church!" Did she never see the sign out in the front that said "United Methodist Church"? But that's besides the point.

How welcoming are we when no one knows where we are? How generous are we if no one outside of our family experiences such generosity? How loving are we if no one receives that love? If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

It drives me crazy when athletes (or anyone in general) give themselves a nickname (yes, Kobe "Black Mamba" Bryant, I'm looking at you). Nicknames should be given and/or earned (I'm looking at you Magic Johnson and Shoeless Joe Jackson).

I sort of feel that way about how we describe our churches. We (the already members) can't be the only ones saying that we're welcoming, loving, invitational, generous, grace-filled, etc.

The bad thing is, no one knows about us. The good thing is, no one knows about us yet. We have a clean slate to build a reputation of being loving and kind. Better to be known for nothing than to be known for something awful, right?

We are working hard to show our community what God is doing through us and inviting people to participate in what God is doing. We're trying to extend the invitation to our neighbors and strangers so that we can truly back up the boast that we are welcoming.

What is your church known for? What are folks — particularly those who aren't part of your church — saying about your church?

May our churches be as loving as we claim we are!

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