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Scary halls, walls & stalls

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–My family and I recently attended a church we had never visited before, and we pulled into the parking lot eager to worship in a new place and to interact with new people.

At the door, we were handed a bulletin by a “greeter” who didn’t say a single word. There was no one else around, so I don’t think he was overwhelmed by incoming people. He simply said nothing. In fact, he didn’t even offer a smile.

Well, at least we got a bulletin.

As we entered the building, we were immediately assaulted by the combined odors of dust, mold and undeniable “oldness.” Frankly, the smell made me feel so uncomfortable that I feared it would keep me from concentrating on the teaching and worship.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the odors were symbolic of the spiritual condition of the church.

Unfortunately, what we saw was as bad as what we smelled. The paint and wallpaper were a “blast from the past” that forced me into a time warp-induced head rush. The furniture was dated and dingy, and the carpet and pew upholstery were old, stained and filthy. It was obvious that no one had bothered to vacuum or pick up last week’s trash from the pews.

By now, I was having sensory overload. My emotions were running high, but for all the wrong reasons.

Then I made my worst mistake of the morning: I visited the restroom. I was aghast to find dirty fixtures and a trash basket overflowing with … trash (I’ll leave it at that). I’m still mystified by the condition of this room. How did it get into such a deplorable state without anyone noticing? We were among the first to arrive, so this catastrophe couldn’t have happened that morning. Was it left from Wednesday night?

All this happened before the service even started. By the time we broke out the hymnals, my ability to focus on the wonderful truth of Scripture and commune with the one true Creator God was significantly stifled. To be honest, I hardly remember a word that was sung or spoken.

In fairness, the experience was slightly salvaged when a few people took time to be friendly and speak to us. I’m sorry to say those efforts couldn’t erase the negatives indelibly etched in my mind.

By the time we left, I felt like a good, long, hot shower was the only solace for my soul and body.

The experience kept me reeling for the rest of the day as I reflected on the many turnoffs I had faced in just one hour. Why was this church in such bad shape? Why are so many church facilities in a similar condition? What can be done about it?

As believers, we understand and say we believe that everything should be done for the glory of God. The condition of a church’s facilities reflects a congregation’s view of God and influences an unbeliever’s perception of God. Are we doing ministry in such a way that it reflects His glory? Are we satisfied that we are presenting our best?

Here are a few suggestions for avoiding the “Scary Halls, Walls and Stalls Syndrome”:

1) Assess the current condition of your church facilities. Acknowledge if and where they need cleaning or improvements and commit yourself to doing something about them. Decide now that you will take action. Your mission matters and your guests deserve better.

2) Be honest about the style and condition of your facilities compared to other facilities in your community. Is your parking lot in good condition? Is your landscaping fresh and tidy? Is your furniture and décor up to date? Visit the newest local mall and restaurants to get a feel for the architecture and décor of businesses in your community. How does your church stack up?

3) If you are not on your church staff or in leadership, enlist support from one or more who are. Together, identify and recruit a couple of the most detailed-oriented and germaphobic super sensors you can find. Give them a cool new title like “Details Matter Coordinators (DMC)” or “Guest Experience Optimizer (GEO).” Empower them. Give them a budget to work with. Give them authority over the House and Grounds Committee. Encourage them to ask a lot of hard questions and to make no assumptions in their evaluation.

4) Encourage the DMCs or GEOs to take a prayerful walk through the church campus, asking the Holy Spirit to open their eyes to details that may have been overlooked. To do this well, it takes some serious objectivity. They should pretend to be a guest seeing your facilities for the first time. Have them look down at the dirt on the baseboards and up at the spider webs in the ceiling corners. They should notice the rust in the restrooms, the stains on the carpet and the clutter on the tables. This should take them awhile. They should leave no stone unturned. If they are really brave, have them open the cabinets and closet doors.

5) Introduce the new DMCs or GEOs to your congregation and dub them as THE authority on facility freshness. Inform your congregation that your church is serious about going to the next level in this area and that the DMCs or GEOs have been empowered to help get you there. Give them a few examples of areas that need work.

6) Start and continually update a master “Facility Freshness Hit List.” Consider inviting members to submit their concerns for inclusion. Divide the list between items that will require funding and those that require manpower only.

7) Get to work! First, determine your priorities. Don’t try to accomplish everything in one week. The process should take several months to accomplish initially and then it should be an ongoing part of your ministry. Second, delegate what you can. Keep an eye out for church members who have really high standards to utilize their skills. Outsource anything that needs a professional touch. Methodically chip away at the hit list and watch how positive change energizes people to make a difference in the Kingdom.

Cleanliness and well-thought-out presentation matters in every store, restaurant and business we visit. When dealing with the facilities that play host to eternal and holy matters, why in the world would we not realize that how we present our message really does matter and details really are important?
Kerry Bural is vice president for public relations and marketing with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

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  • Kerry Bural