Christmas Eve was my wife's last day at her current job. I was off, and after a few small errands (Christmas shopping was done), Thomas and I went to eat at Waffle House. He loves WH. We have went a few times, but he does ask for it by name. And every waffle he sees elicits a point and "Waffle House." So we went for brunch (no melon or Mimosas, but we are guys). Immediately upon entering the restaurant, greetings ring out from the staff comfortably working behind the counter. Since he loves to watch anyone and everyone cook, we walk to a table that will give him a good vantage point. A first waitress comes over and gives us menus, and takes my order for coffee. She smiles and talks to Thomas for a few moments before asking how old he is and reaching down and giving him a paper hat. Turns out she has a son not too much older than he is. Then came our waitress with coffee, stopping to talk to us a bit. Another waitress came up from the other side, grinning as she came to see the wonder that is my son (it may sound conceited, and I may just be a skewed dad, but I think he is pretty amazing). Our food came and we began to eat. The little rush that we arrived in abated, and the staff began to take their breaks. One of the cooks came over and did a little magic trick for Thomas. I laughed the entire time, but Thomas was amazed at the little bit of prestidigitation. (I heard some of the other staff laugh a bit at the corny trick, I think they had seen it more than once...) One person knocked from behind the one-way mirror to Thomas' surprise. It may sound like we had no peace, but in reality we at our food in relative quiet. But at no point did we feel like we were intruding or banished. We belonged there, in that booth, in that diner.
I am sure the staff at the Waffle House is reminded to welcome patrons. I assume they welcome others the same way they welcomed us (or at least me). But I know I have been to other restaurants where they ask your name, but it feels forced. The entire time on Christmas Eve it never felt forced or strained. (And to be honest, never at that location has the spirit been any less genuine.)
We have been on a journey to find a church home for a while now. Sometimes more focused, sometimes enjoying the freedom that Sunday morning at home can provide. But at one church a group of people saw Thomas and fawned over him enough that we felt uncomfortable. (Churches & people should never paw at children like a kid coveting a present on Dec 24 that has set under the tree for almost a month. Creepy is never welcoming!) We have been to churches with over 1000 and only the guy (it's almost always a guy) handing out the program (or bulletin or newspaper) is the only one to talk to us. We have been to churches with much fewer people and the same thing happens. Never have I walked into a strange church that has come close to the warmth that I get at Waffle House.
Sadly most churches are deserts of hospitality. To the new person they seem dry and empty. Mirages exists but as you approach you notice they were not really for you. Oases exist, but only once you know the routes (and they know you). I guess I would rather die of thirst than drown... I don't want to be flooded with people touching me (and especially touching my son). But surely there is a happy medium.
I know that when I enter a church, be it as a member or a visitor, I did not just wake up on the church step. (Blessing to the church that has that problem and welcomes the homeless and/or hungover.) But I got there somehow. I went, and if my family is with me, it was with some difficulty. Just as I go to WH with a purpose to get fed, I go to church to be fed. The problem is that when we go to church, too many of us go only to be fed. We see ourselves as taking a booth and being waited on by the staff. It is not our job, we have done that Monday thru Friday. It is someone else's turn to greet and host and offer something to the kid to keep them entertained.
What would happen if your church (or mine) acted like they were happy that whoever walked in the door walked in? What if the corny guy was allowed to be corny? What if the person that throws the best parties was in charge of the greeters? What if we stopped seeing the staff as only staff, but if we saw ourselves as hosts? What if the staff were the chefs, in charge of feeding us, but we were the waitstaff in charge of our section? Would you go to that church? Would you work there, even without pay?