East Hills tries to be a seeker-friendly church, giving prominence to the needs of new attenders. If you come to our building, you will find handouts interesting to visitors are out front and internal things like budget reports in the back. If you go to our church homepage, you will see Pastor Nick's blog-- written with visitors in mind-- out front, while this newsletter-- aimed at participants in church ministries-- is only visible after following an "EHA Family" link.
To keep people who call East Hills their home from feeling left out or ignored, Nick hosted a Shop Talk event last Sunday afternoon. It was a time for the staff and regulars to discuss some of the dark, confidential aspects of the Christian life:
1. Park as far away as possible. Visitors often show up a little late, and we like for them to find a few good parking places left.
2. Seating: front half of the sanctuary, middle half of the pew. If frequent attenders fill up the rear aisle seats, newcomers must climb past them or sit uncomfortably close.
3. The five minute rule. It's common for us to come to church and see a friend we have not spoken to for a week. But instead of homing in on old buddies the instant the service ends, Nick asked the regulars to spend five minutes with the unfamiliar faces.
4. Be a shareholder rather than a moviegoer. After you watch a film, you don't take any credit for its successes or blame for its failures. Most of us approach our first visit to a new church in the same way. The staff asked the shop-talk crowd to take a more interested attitude in EHA, to act as if they have a personal stake in what happens there.
Nick also gave a sketch of the church's finances. Our year-to-date income over expenses is $61.58, with a healthy general fund balance of $20,194.35. So far in 2006, we have given 9,316 to missions and $4,028 toward the great commission fund, which pays the salary of our denomination's overseas missionaries. Over the past 18 months, we have completed $25,827 of our $30,000 Rongxian missions giving project. Due to favorable exchange rates, the dollar goes a long way in China, so our donation is enough for this Chinese C&MA body to buy and renovate a warehouse into a church building.
Obviously, we do not really need to keep any of this a secret, from first-timers or anyone else. But it was still more comfortable to talk about it outside of a seeker-friendly service. If I were to try a new church and hear the pastor list off those four requests above, I might think, "Man, this is a nice place to visit, but once you settle down, it's rules, rules, rules!" If, during the announcements, we project a slide of the missions giving, newcomers can very easily form a bad first impression that money is our focus.
Nick plans on making Shop Talk a quarterly event. Not only is it a time where you can hear the staff speak more freely about internal matters, it is a time when they will be asking for your feedback as well.