A while back, I got an email from Leah’s Cross-Country Coach. Leah’s District meet was the next day and the course had been changed because of heavy rain. The coach asked me to print out the attached map and go over it with Leah, making sure she understood where to run. “No problem,” I responded. Unfortunately, I didn’t open the map before giving my consent. The attachment I was supposed to explain to my daughter looked like this:

This map made me feel very, very stupid. Where did it start? End? Which direction was Leah supposed to run? What was the red line? I was at a loss.

Leah, however, could understand it. “Look at the key,” she said. “First, I run the yellow loop (her finger guided me along), then the dotted black, then the blue, then the orange, yellow again and then pink for the last. Just ignore red. Red is the old course.”

I stared a little longer and then shrugged. The runner understood the course. I didn’t need to.

The next day, Leah’s Coach sent out a revised map.

Start and finish were clearly labeled. There were direction arrows, and only the revised course was included. I understood.

Trying to decipher the first map helped me understand how often church language, customs, and traditions can confuse those who genuinely want to know more about God. Words like “narthex,” “righteousness,” or even “grace” and “communion” can feel indecipherable to those who don’t already have a background. And let’s not get started on all the abbreviations and shorthand we use (SPRC, UMM, UMW, UMCOR, etc). Add to all of this lingo the realities of not knowing when to stand or sit, if it’s okay to bring in your coffee, or what to wear can make guests feel like a spotlight is shining on them: “Here’s someone who can’t read our map!!”

Here are a few ideas of how to make it easier:

  1. Wear nametags. I’d suggest the sticky ones just because it puts everyone, member and guest, on the same footing.
  2. The next time someone looks lost or asks you where the bathroom, nursery, youth room, even gym is, don’t just point, walk them there.
  3. Be welcoming at every moment. Stop your conversation if someone you’ve not met walks by- greet them! When someone comes in late, smile warmly, whisper that you are glad they’re here, make room next to you.
  4. If it’s really crowded, be the one to give up your seat. You know “the terrain” and can find another in the less popular areas.
  5. Reassure new folks that jeans/shorts/flip flops/3 piece suits/toe socks are all totally okay- God looks at the heart, not the exterior.
  6. Invite friends- there are so many who would love to come to a church, but need a “native” to go with them. Having a friend who invites you to join them can make all the difference.

Do everything you can to make sure that when people come to your wonderful church, they know they are welcomed and can focus on the movement of God in their lives, not on deciphering a difficult “map” of expectations.

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