A couple of times I have had a test-drive of a car from a dealership with the salesman screaming out I don’t trust you.
Not in those words, of course. Each time the professional seller was polite, said the right words, and let me have a drive. And also behaved to tell me they had no expectation that I was really after a car for the family.
The stand out had the salesman with me, telling me where to drive. Truly it was, ‘Left here, left, left here, left again. And back in the car-yard.’ He let me drive around the block!
We didn’t buy a Camry.
When people asked about how we chose our car, I found the time to tell many people this story – including naming the dealer.
I started the car search thinking that car sales people might not be trusted (take their words with a grain of salt, I thought). With that dealer, I became the untrustworthy one, who needed to prove himself.
When people turn up for the first time to a church event, it’s a little like a test drive.
Instead of hanging around a likely-looking vehicle, they hover around the information stall or the morning tea set-up. They wait for someone to approach and genuinely ask, ‘Can I help you?’ They probably haven’t dismissed that church as useless – they made the effort to attend – but are looking for proof that it’s trustworthy.
Those who test-drive a church don’t want people to say – indirectly – ‘We don’t trust you.’
‘What church did you come from before? Oh! (tut, tut).’ ‘So your kids aren’t at a Christian school/public school/<your preferred option here>?’ ‘You don’t know what we mean by NIV, ESV, AFES, FIEC … where have you been?’
It’s helpful to remember, when someone visits and is test driving our church, it’s our church that is being tested. And that’s OK.
Don’t treat the visitor as the subject of test, as one who can’t be trusted. If we treat them as dangerous and not-necessarily welcome, they may well decline to fit our low expectations. Don’t fear the church ‘test-driver’.