What I learned at the Cotton Bowl

Christine and I went to Dallas to see the Tigers play in the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas, and in the process I learned something very important but unexpected. It didn’t have anything to do with football. When I left Columbia, I knew that the Tigers were a better team than the Razorbacks and the game just confirmed that. I went all the way to Dallas to learn something about church. Let me set it up for you. Whenever we go out of town as a family (which is about 3 or 4 Sundays a year), we NEVER go to church. That’s usually because we are in the car driving, or just to be frank, taking the opportunity to sleep in. There’s just something about going to a church that you know that you will never return to, that doesn’t interest me.

Well somehow this trip turned out differently. Christine had heard of a church in Dallas called Watermark that she wanted to attend. I was ready to resist but she never let me get that far. So in a miracle right up there with the parting of the Red Sea and the tumbling of the walls of Jericho, I went to church in Dallas, Texas. I almost called back to Dave who was here at The Crossing and told him to set out extra seats. If I was at church while on vacation, revival must be breaking out everywhere.

I sure am glad that I listened to my wife and visited Watermark. Here’s why: this was the first time that I had been a visitor at a church since The Crossing started 7 years ago. Every week at The Crossing, I try to “see” things from the perspective of a new person but it isn’t the same thing as actually living it.

So I went all the way to Dallas and went to church in order to find out that it is hard to go to a new church. First, you aren’t sure where it is or exactly how to get there. Imagine new people seeing our building but not seeing an entrance off of Grindstone leaving them unsure of where to go. Plus since we don’t have a sign that identifies the building as The Crossing, many new people are probably wondering if that building really is a church at all. Then when you finally fight through the traffic, find a parking spot, and enter the building, you aren’t sure where to go. Where do you take the kids? Are the doughnuts sitting on the table available to everyone? Do you have to pay for coffee? Can you go into the auditorium early?

If you are a guy, you have to navigate this new terrain without asking questions. Men don’t like to ask questions because they don’t want to admit that they don’t know things.

Somehow you make it into a seat and the service starts. Chances are a new person doesn’t know the words to any of the songs. At Watermark in Dallas, I had only heard of one of the songs that were sung that morning. And I’m a pastor!

Then someone stands up to give a message and you aren’t sure who it is. Is that the pastor or is the pastor coming up later? A person could come to The Crossing for three consecutive Sundays and hear a different pastor speak at each one. They must wonder who is in charge.

My trip to Dallas taught me that as a church we need to be very aware of the obstacles that get in the way of new people attending and then try to help them overcome those obstacles. There are several things that we as pastors and staff are doing to aid in the process (like continually changing the service times…just kidding), but no matter how much we do, it won’t be enough. The church is just too big. If The Crossing is going to continue to grow and be welcoming to new people, then you will have to pitch in and help. Maybe for you helping means serving as a Greeter or on the Parking Team or in Crossing Kids. It might mean taking the initiative to introduce yourself to people that you don’t know, or sitting in the middle sections so that the seats on the aisle are available to new people who might be arriving late. Perhaps you could help out by parking on the outer edges of the parking lot and leaving the closer spots for the new person.

Maybe the best advice is just to remember what it was like when you were new and help another person get over that uncomfortable feeling.

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