Happy Eager Stalkers

July 26th, 2011

I like to shop. I suppose that makes me a good American.

However, there’s one thing that consistently diminishes my shopping joy.

It’s that guy. You know that guy? The one that meets you at the front of the store and asks if you need help? I call him “the Curious Gatekeeper.” Everytime I encounter the Curious Gatekeeper, my internal, unvoiced response is “No, I don’t need help to wander Best Buy and lust after mammoth television screens. I can (and probably should) do that alone. Which is why my wife doesn’t know I’m here.” How little do you think of me to assume I’m too moronic to find what I’m looking for before I’ve even got two feet in your store?

There’s another version of that guy (and I should point out that “that guy” is actually sometimes a girl). I call him the Eager Helpful Stalker. Most often encountered in furniture stores and car lots, the EHS is too polite to ask you twice. However, he will lurk nearby: chatting on a cell phone, “inspecting” other inventory, joking with a coworker, hiding behind a small bush. The trick to dealing with an EHS is to think of him as a vulture, and your shopping party as a man dehydrating in the desert–no matter what, keep moving, or he’ll alight and ravage your shopping carcass.

The reason I mention the two primary varieties of “that guy” is simple: I see that guy in church. A lot. Both versions. Most churches now have a Curious Gatekeeper or two:

“Welcome to Scarily Cheerful Baptist! Can I get you anything? Do you know where your class is? Should I take your kids to Childrens’ Church? Here, take a bulletin! Give us your contact info! Can we pray for you? Reveal the most intimate struggles of your life to a stranger! We’re so happy to see you!”

I cannot fathom encountering that person at 9 am on a Sunday (or any other) morning. Which is why I never leave churches. Once I have the staff trained to respect my intrinsic grumpiness, I don’t want to mess with a good thing.

And the really frightening churches also have Eager Helpful Stalker Vultures. These people don’t just meet you at the door: they check in on you after Sunday School; they sit near you, so you’ll have someone friendly to talk to during “fellowship time”; after the service, they check to make sure you left your contact info and plan to return (or why you won’t be coming back).


Admittedly, I’m a jerk. But I’m an observant jerk, and for every family that responds warmly to being smilingly assaulted ten feet inside the door of a strange new place, there are five families who (like me) send off radioactive “leave me alone” vibes.

Just do church. Worship. Discuss Christ. Wrestle with the God of Scripture. Openly discuss our failings and successes. Be actual people, not a synthetic sales staff for Jesus. The power of that authentic experience is what will make people return. Or not. You know, the “great falling away” and whatnot…

I know, I know. You have to have SOMEBODY at the door, because it’s just polite. Also, our grandparents put somebody at the door of the church, and they’ve never yet been wrong (except for racism, the Bohr atom, the earth being flat, Vietnam, the S&L crisis…).

But the person at the door can be polite without being frightening. They can express cheer without seeming like a commissioned sales staff. And for advice on how to accomplish that, I give you three words from the most successful company in the universe:

“Welcome to Wal-Mart.”

It’s that simple. No informational exchange, no request for contact info, for Sweet Moses’ sake no nametags, no questions. Just welcome.

We’re glad you’re here.

Do with that what you will, churches. But Wal-Mart appears to be doing just fine.


Jay Adams blogs at the36review.com.

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