Beware the Black Hole of Time

I’m not thinking about the people who get their keys out during the last song and scurry away immediately after the benediction (or maybe during!). Nor am I thinking about those individuals who only halfheartedly care about church, showing up maybe a couple times a year.

No. I have in mind those families or individuals who are actively looking for a church home. Perhaps they’ve recently moved. Or perhaps they’ve gained new convictions. Whatever the reason, they’re visiting your church, eager to settle down and call the people of the congregation their church family.

Forgive the nasty little phrase, but these folks are church shopping.

Now as you know, there are all kinds of reasons why people don’t stay. Some of the reasons are good. Some not so good. Fastidiousness is a real thing after all.

My fear is that we will lose people in the black hole of time.

Oh, yes, the black hole of time. This is that period of time following the service when the visitor is standing around awkwardly, knowing not a soul. As the church bustles about, clumped together in their familiar groups, catching up and fellowshipping, the new family nervously gathers their stuff, looks about the room and waits.

They’re hoping to be included.  seedballs

Now here’s the truth. Lots of people do come up and say hello. Most churches are good at this. Oh, sure, there are a fair number of regulars who don’t pay them much attention, as they’re too focused on chatting with friends or getting some matter of church business in order.  On the whole, however, the newcomers are warmly greeted.

But that’s not the real black hole of time. The real black hole occurs later. And it usually occurs at two different, but related moments. Do you know when?

People get sucked away and lost forever on the second or third or fourth visit immediately following a church service (and especially during any waiting periods- like before a fellowship meal).

This is the black hole of time. Initial hellos have been said. Handshakes have been exchanged. So everything is supposedly good now. The regulars can do their regular things, and the visitors are supposed to feel at home.

But they don’t feel at home. Not even a little. And when they’re forced to stand around while the regulars talk with perfect ease, or when the visitor consigns themselves to an empty table, not knowing what to expect, watching church life occur all around them, the temptation is to leave. To flee, actually. And never come back.

If you’ve been at the same church for years now, maybe you forget this feeling. But it’s real.

So if I may be so bold, let me encourage you to go out of your way to fill the black hole of time with warmth. Stay with the new people. Actively invite them to your table or sit down next to them. Go out of your comfort zone.

Can I say all that again? It is really quite important.

Stay with the new people. Be a good host. Take the time to hear their story and share yours. Ask good questions. Don’t leave them feeling awkward. And don’t wait too long to invite them to your house for a meal.

Hospitality and friendliness are powerful things.  They can single-handedly close black holes.

12 Comments

  1. JC February 17, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

    What are good questions to ask (since you say ask good questions)?

    • Austin Brown February 18, 2016 at 7:22 pm #

      Hey JC,

      In my mind, the questions should be natural ones, and the kind that show interest and look to befriend. I usually want to know the basics: work, family, spiritual journey. I’m an extrovert, so questions come more easily.

      I usually want to know what their interests are. What do they do for recreation? If something corresponds with those of my own, I run with it. If not, then I take an interest and look to learn something. In a very real sense, we should aim to fulfill Phil 2:4.

      I’m also quick to invite people over for dinner. I have found that is the best way to allow people to open up and share their lives. A meal is powerful, in that respect. So are games. I love taking people out to play disc golf. As you know, guys like to do things. So let’s talk while we do something.

  2. Rachel February 18, 2016 at 5:48 am #

    Ask about work and the challenges there. Ask about how they came to know the Lord. If it’s a couple, ask how they met. Ask lots of ‘why’ questions-it helps get deeper than the factual questions.

  3. GregB February 18, 2016 at 1:10 pm #

    Bravo. Well stated.

  4. Nicole February 19, 2016 at 10:18 pm #

    This is right on point!!!! I praise God for the people who welcomed us at our church a few years ago. Our family does stick out like a sore thumb though and that probably helped us to get through the black hole period. My husband uses a wheelchair due to his disability and we have super-sweet little one. I think because we know what it feels like to kind of feel out of place, we really make an effort reach out to people who are new to our church. I am much more of an introvert than my husband but my profession forced me out of my shell. I hope to be able to train myself to do better conversationally so that I can help people feel more comfortable. People seem to enjoy talking to me but I do have difficulty in the beginning and don’t always know what questions to ask. Yet I know I am capable of learning and practicing and getting better at it. Are there any good books to read about this topic? Pretty much how to be a better conversationalist (doesn’t have to be Christian book).

    • Austin Brown February 20, 2016 at 7:46 pm #

      Thanks for sharing that, Nicole! Much appreciated. I’m sorry to say that I’m not aware of any good books on the subject. In fact, I’m not aware of any books on the subject 🙂

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