Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Be The "Nordstrom" Church!

Dear Friends,

Melissa was in her favorite Nordstrom store in the upscale part of the San Fernando Valley. She was browsing on the floor where the most expensive dresses cost thousands of dollars. The elevator door opened and out-stepped a woman obviously homeless. Dirty, cast-off clothing that had been slept in.. Matted hair.. The odor of life lived in back alleys.. The picture of despair and hopelessness. Melissa cringed when she saw the woman and fully expected store security to converge on the bag lady and quickly hustle her out and back to the street where she belonged. 

Instead, a tall, sophisticated saleswoman approached the bag lady, smiled at her and said, “How can I help you, Ma'am?” The bag lady said, “I'd like to buy a dress for a party.” The saleswoman said, “You've come to the right place. We have some of the finest dresses. Let me show you some.” Melissa couldn't believe what she was seeing and hearing. After the bag lady selected two that she liked, Melissa was shocked to see the saleswoman take the expensive dresses into the dressing room so that the bag lady could try them on. The beautiful dresses would be ruined once they touched her open sores and unwashed body.

In a few minutes the two women came out and the bag lady said, “I've decided not to buy a dress today.” The saleswoman replied, “That's quite all right but here take my card and when you come back to Nordstrom, I'd consider it a pleasure to wait on you again.”


The man and woman walked hand in hand toward the gleaming, white Protestant church in the San Fernando Valley. This was their first visit and they were immediately confused about where to go. The front doors at the top of the trash-covered steps were closed and seemed to be unused. Everyone was going in the propped-open side door so the new couple followed some people into the church. An usher with an annoyed expression came hurrying down the aisle toward them, handed them a bulletin and went back to sit in the darkened lobby by the front door. It was clear that the new couple had upset the usher by coming in the “member's” door when they should have entered through the front “visitor’s” door. They were surrounded with about thirty people talking, greeting and hugging each other and carefully ignoring the visiting couple. Not a single person spoke to them or acknowledged their presence. Had they suddenly become invisible? 

After standing awkwardly in the aisle for a few minutes and hoping to find someone to talk with, they began to feel like they were uninvited intruders who had stumbled into a private family function. The couple sat down quietly in a pew and waited for the service to start. After the service, light refreshments were served on the outside patio and a few people welcomed the couple, shook their hands and then immediately walked away to join their friends. The couple stayed there nearly a year and remained the “outsiders,” welcomed to worship alongside that church family on a Sunday but never invited to join the family. When the couple finally gave up and left, no one called to find out why. Did anyone even notice they were no longer there?


And the question is this. Who was more Christ-like in welcoming the stranger? That church family or the Nordstrom saleswoman? Which one was demonstrating God’s unconditional love? My understanding is that the Nordstrom story is true. Both Rhianna and I can attest to the truth of the church story because we were that couple. 

The church pastor and leadership were puzzled why they were not growing. But they had become an ingrown church family, and while they would have never posted a sign that said, “Go Back – You Are Not Welcome,” that was how they treated their visitors. Their church vision proclaimed that they were “a lighthouse beaming the love of Jesus out to the sinners.” The reality was that they had become an exclusive private social club for the “saints.”

I'm not picking on this church but using them as an example of how the majority of small to medium-sized churches “greet” their visitors and why they find their church growing smaller. Sadly, Rhianna and I have experienced this at every small to medium church we’ve ever visited and I would find it was the lament of the pastor that their church was not growing. They sincerely believed their church was friendly and welcoming. It wasn’t. 

The church of Jesus Christ needs to be the “Nordstrom” church welcoming everyone unconditionally. Because if our visitors don’t feel the love of Jesus radiating out from the body of Christ, there is no reason for them to return and stay. I love small churches because they epitomize the family of believers that provide love, fellowship and support to each other, but if they are not sincerely welcoming the stranger into that family, their church will die. 

With people not returning after Covid closed churches for well over a year, and with the majority of those in the younger generations turning away from religion, small to medium-sized churches that have been able to remain open are facing great challenges. Their only possibility of survival is to become the “Nordstrom” church. That's the church that Jesus always intended it to be. Amen?

No comments:

Post a Comment