As a part of our ‘holiday at home’ over the past 3 weeks my husband and I set the challenge to have coffee together from a different location every day. Our town has a multitude of caffeine options to choose from and it was an interesting experiment to see the variety of offerings presented from exactly the same coffee order of a small latte and a large flat white.
I decided to take a photo of the first location and post it to Facebook, and then a contrasting photo on the next day. While I initially was focussed on the quality of the coffee and how close it was to the request it didn’t take long for another element to become quite influential on the overall experience. The cafes had a very definite ambience that impacted each visit, some were vibrant, busy and noisy, others were clinical in their feel. Some of the cafes had a sense that there were no strangers among the customers and staff, others felt as if there would be limited recognition even if you attended every day.
Towards the end of our holiday we took some time to reflect on this social observation activity and compared our ‘highs’ and ‘lows’. It was interesting to note that the locations we would be happy to re-visit were ones that had a strong sense of community and connection, those places where relationships and care were a part of the culture, rather than the best tasting coffee. This came as a bit of a surprise to us, and yet it really shouldn’t.
We see this principle at work in church life also. There are places where a church might offer the most professional services with the best music and lighting effects and yet lack personal connection. Often the better churches to be a part of are those that are more concerned with relationships rather than appearances. If people feel connected they will give more grace about some of the other elements.
At the very start of ‘church’ existence there is a beautiful description of what meeting together should look like. In Acts chapter 2 it says: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Verse 42). Four strong elements working together to ensure spiritual growth and development. While they are all essential, what will keep people invested in returning is strong relationships which was just as evident in the cafes we visited.
I want my church to be like one of our favourite cafe ‘finds’ where every person through the door was welcomed and accepted like an old friend. I want my church to strive for excellence, but not at the cost of warmth and relationships. Heading back to work tomorrow I want to critically evaluate how well we might measure up to this benchmark. Can I have a flat white with that?