Helpful hosts don't assume

March 23rd, 2015

"Just take APS and you can't miss us! We're on APS," said the person on the phone.

"APS? What is that?" I asked.

"Oh, uhm, it's the street that we're on."

"The street's name? How do you spell it?"

"Oh, no. It's an abbreviation. A-P-S."

"Oh, got it. Uh, what's it stand for?"

"I should know this. I guess you're new in town, huh? We haven't had to say what APS is short for in a long time. Man, I honestly can't remember. I'm so sorry. Once you find out what APS stands for, you can't miss us."

"Oh, all right. I'll try to find my way."

At that point, not even Siri could find the destination I was looking for. I had just moved to Santa Barbara and was trying to meet someone at a nonprofit organization. I couldn't even make it home without the aid of a GPS so finding what APS stood for and where it was on my own was going to be next to impossible. Siri (which had been recently introduced) was of no help. I eventually found out that APS was Alameda Padre Serra. And he was right, once I was on Alameda Padre Serra, the place wasn't that hard to find.

But I was annoyed at the conversation and at the effort it took for me to find the place. Why assume everyone knows what APS stands for? Why assume everyone who reaches out to you is a local? It was frustrating how unhelpful the representative of this organization was.

A season or so later, a friend of mine visited my church to "check up on me." We were catching up in my office and he asked where the bathroom was. Our women's bathroom is easy to find, as it's right next to the main entrance of our sanctuary. The men's bathroom is also easy to find, just not as easy as the women's.

"Go out of the sanctuary, take a right. Then go into the fellowship hall, take a right, and you'll see it. You can't miss it."

Five minutes later, he came back saying, "Dude. I can't find the bathroom." At first, I was annoyed with my friend for not being able to follow directions well. So I walked with him and then I realized that there are four different doors that you can take to enter our fellowship hall. How was he to know which door I meant, no matter how obvious it seemed to me?

I assumed that he'd know what I was talking about when I said, "Go into the fellowship hall." The guy on the phone assumed that I'd know where APS Road was. We had been insiders long enough that we began to assume that everyone is already an insider.

It's natural (and easy) for us assume that people know what we know. But it's probably safer to assume that not everyone is enlightened as we are.

Not everyone knows where the bathroom is located on your campus. Not everyone knows where the nursery is or where to take their children when they arrive at church. Do they go into the worship service? Is there Sunday school for the kids? Where are the classes?

Not everyone knows what occurs after the worship celebration ends. One of the loneliest times in worship is when the service is over because people are on a mad dash to their lunch plans or after-service duties / classes / studies / fellowship. Where's everyone going? How do I join that class? Where's the fellowship hall? Do I just go pick up my kids or are they going to be led to the fellowship hall? Are there refreshments available after worship? Are the doughnuts and coffee free?

We also shouldn't assume that people who visit us are familiar with church and Christian lingo — that everyone knows what Communion is and how to take it, that everyone knows what the Doxology is and knows to stand while singing it, or that everyone knows the Lord's Prayer, Amazing Grace, O For a Thousand Tongues and other church favorites by heart. 

We should be welcoming, informative, understanding, grace-filled and loving — helping people feel like they've always been part of our community — that they've always belonged here even if it's their first time setting foot on the church campus.

We could be really helpful and put visitors at ease if we just stopped assuming.

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