While on vacation in early August, my wife and I paid our first visit to New York City. It’s a fascinating place, great for people-watching, and I recommend that you go if you haven’t been before. (We found a place to camp in New Jersey that was very handy to the train that goes into Manhattan, so while not cheap, it was less expensive than taking a New York hotel room!)
Since the constant gridlock traffic that characterizes downtown Manhattan would drive any Canadian crazy, we relied on public transit to get us around New York. And we learned something fascinating: the New York City subway system is very confusing – even to locals.
We were in Fulton Street Station in lower Manhattan, and we wanted the Number 1, 2 or 3 train to head up to 42ndStreet. It shouldn’t be too hard, we reasoned, since any one of those three trains would get us there. But the platform we landed on did not have any of those trains; we weren’t interested in a trip to Brooklyn, so we started watching signs. Every so often, as we walked along the platforms in the hot, sticky air, we would see a sign that pointed to the Number 1, 2 and 3 trains.
We went up stairs. We went up elevators. We went down stairs. We walked across what felt like miles of platforms. And this was all in the same station! At one point, we encountered a lady who, in conversation, told us that she lives there, and she gets confused by the subway. She wanted the same train we did, and she was as helpless in the process as we were!
Eventually, we found the right platform – no worries about getting my 10,000 steps in that day! – and made it uptown. But oh, my, what a confusing episode.
Understand that for someone who is new to the church, who perhaps went as a child or has absolutely no faith background at all, walking into a church building on a Sunday morning can be a bit like my experience in the New York City subway.
It’s up to us to assume nothing, keep it simple, and be willing to help people navigate through a service that may be old hat to us, but not to our guests. This is true whether your worship gathering is simple and streamlined, or requires you to follow along in a book or a bulletin. Whatever we do, it may be gibberish to someone who is new to the church.
Let’s do all we can to grease the path that leads to Jesus. That way, our guests will be able to echo the Psalmist: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122.1, NLT).