Sell me Something, Please!

Just after I moved to St. Louis, I walked into a furniture store in one of the southwest suburbs looking for a kitchen table, a desk and a couch for my office. Today, three months later, I still have none of those things.

It didn't matter what day I went into the store, or what time, or how many other customers were in the place, no one would try to sell me anything. The store employees walked by me a lot, while I was poking around through the displays looking for the right sections, but none stopped to ask if I had found what I was looking for, or encourage me to make a deal with them to take it home.

I couldn't figure this out. I was trying to make a large, fairly expensive purchase. But no one would sell me anything! My mother suggested that I simply look like I have no money. I thought about the way I was dressed in the store and what that might tell a salesperson. I had on nice khakis, dark leather shoes, a zippered henley-style shirt and a casual tan corduroy jacket. I must have at least looked like a customer. But I may not have looked like the ideal customer, and so the store lost one, because talking to someone who doesn't fit an image of the kind of person they want in their store is apparently a lot to ask.

In his book "Life With Father," Clarence Day told a story about his father trying to buy a refrigerator. In one store, he ordered one on the condition that it be filled with ice when it was delivered. The salesman replied, "But sir, we are not in the ice business."
Day's response was sharp. "Then it seems to me you're in no kind of business at all!" Simply making the sale wasn't enough; the store also had to satisfy the real need (ice) that went along with the purchase.

Jeanne Mayo, in her book "Thriving Youth Groups" talks about how one problem her youth group faced was a lack of friendliness toward new people. One student announced to his mother that he would never come back, and when asked why, explained that no one had greeted him or invited him to participate in any of the evening's events. He had come there for fellowship, and no matter how good the program was that he heard, his real need was not met.

Churches and youth groups need to be extremely careful about how we approach new people. We can't assume they will just find their way, because church is a complicated place with a lot of ritual that must be explained somehow. At the same time, we can't make every person who walks through the door a member of the leadership team on the first visit. Jon Schmidt, pastor of First Lutheran Church, told a preaching class that when he spots a new person in the pew on Sunday morning, that's when he feels the most pressure on his preaching; he wonders what brought that person there and if his sermon will meet those real needs.

We need to treat people as though they are going to make an expensive purchase. The church, after all, has the one item of greatest value, and one of those people who comes to our worship or our youth group will take it for the first time. We need to greet by name. We need to ask about families and jobs and school and prayers we might ask for them. We need to create places for these visitors to introduce themselves and share what they do best. And at all times, we need to share with them what the steps are to join the family.

I was standing in the Wydown narthex talking with one of my students a few weeks ago when she poked me and said "Do you know those people?" Sure enough, a new family with two teenage boys was just walking in. I had never seen them before. (Of course, having been there just two months, I had never seen a lot of regular members before either.) She didn't know them either, so we walked over and introduced ourselves. We said we were glad they had come to church that morning. I told them what I did in the building and invited them to look over our youth ministry calendar for events that might interest them. And when they walked into the sanctuary to prepare for worship, we said we hoped we would see them again. It's not hard work, at a furniture store or in a church, and to create the culture of friendship that is so vital a part of the church Jesus taught us to be, it must be done by every member.


Esther said...

Hey, LT, I like your blog. I hear you on the greeting new people and getting them involved point. I left my old church basically because I had been going there for years and no one cared or even tried to get me involved.

Esther said...

Okay, I posted a comment on here yesterday and it did not show up. Stupid blogger.

Anyway, I think I said that I hear you on the getting new people involved at church point. And I am glad to see that you are blogging. I have linked your blog to mine as you can see if you care to look.

P.S. I am having a hell of a time with those stupid word verification things today. I hate dyslexia.

Foolio_Displasius said...

Hey Isaac! Cool lookin' blog!