waiting awkwardly

After a brief Christmas hiatus the bloggerel is flowing once again. I hope you had a relaxing and enjoyable Christmas and that if you have braved the sales you have survived relatively unscathed.

shoppingOn Saturday I had the joy of accompanying my wife Sally and our teenage daughter to some clothing stores in Milton Keynes. As the designated hanger around looking uncomfortable/bag holder I had the opportunity of observing how different stores treat their customers. In particular, since we were mainly visiting clothing stores providing garments for women, I was able to observe how they provided for the men who were accompanying the women in their lives.

I won’t name the stores, although I will give you some clues, but there were some big differences between them. In ‘neat and trim floating zoo’* the changing rooms were located at the back of the store, through the lingerie department. I had the joyous task of waiting for my daughter to try on various items of clothing whilst standing conspicuously in the lingerie department, trying hard not to look anywhere in particular. If you have ever seen the episode of Father Ted were priests managed to get themselves lost in the lingerie department of a store you will have some idea of how uncomfortable I was feeling. Thank goodness I don’t wear a dog collar!

Contrast that experience with the experience I had in ‘waterway parachute jump finish.’** In that store they provided a comfortable armchair in a non-embarrassing section of the shop in which I could sit and relax and while away my time.

Now while I appreciate that providing seats for accompanying males takes up valuable shop floor space that could be used for displaying stock, I think that the second shop also understood that attached females often drag males with them on their shopping trips in order that they can “get their opinion” (and then ignore it, or take the wrong way). By providing for the companion and making the shopping experience more positive for them I believe the shop is more likely to get repeat visits from the couples.

It got me wondering whether we place visitors in a similarly uncomfortable position as the first shop placed me. I don’t mean that we display lingerie around our churches, but do we make people feel awkward or conspicuous? We are starting to examine how we welcome people in our church and one of the things that we need constantly to bear in mind is that people are more likely not to come back if they have felt awkward or foolish than if we have made them comfortable and relaxed.

We don’t have any specific answers yet but we’re working on it. Here are a few simple things that we are doing. One thing that I have started doing is making sure that everybody who is participating in the service from the front either introduces themselves or is introduced so that nobody is left wondering who these people are or what they are doing. We try to limit the number of verbal ‘in-house’ notices that we give so that it’s not all for the people in the know. We serve filter coffee rather than instant. If nothing else the smell is welcoming, but people should also be able to receive a decent cup of coffee from us rather than something that might well have been made by Baldrick in Blackadder goes Forth (hot mud – you don’t want to know about the cappuccino!).

Do you do anything in your church that helps people feel welcome and relaxed? Or do you have any ideas could you not yet implemented but which you think would be worth trying? It would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Prim ark

** River I land

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