Many years ago we were on vacation and had carefully looked up a local congregation so we could attend a mid-week Bible study with our brothers and sisters in that town. We left our camp site in plenty of time. We arrived to an empty parking lot at 7:15 pm on a Wednesday evening. The sign in the yard said, “Wednesday Bible Study, 7:30 PM.” We waited until 8:00, then finally gave up and went back to the campground—no one ever came.
Another time, another place, we walked into the building at 6:45. We knew someone would be there this time—there were cars in the lot already. Yes, they were there, and the Bible class was winding down, even though the sign outside said, “Tuesday evening Bible study, 7:00 PM.” At 7 on the dot the final amen was said. “We meet at 6 in the summer,” we were told. We sure wished the sign had said so.
Yet another time, and another place, we arrived on Sunday morning at 9:15 AM. The sign outside said, “Bible classes, 9:30 AM,” but there wasn’t another car in sight. Finally about 9:28 one car drove up and parked. The family took their time getting out and walking inside. We followed, and watched as the man, who was the teacher that morning, began setting up. At 9:35 another family arrived and sat with us. At 9:40 two more walked in. At 9:45 another man walked through the auditorium, waving and calling out to the teacher in front of us, who had not yet started his class. A couple of minutes later we started, and what was billed as a 45 minute study became 25 minutes, less another five or so for opening remarks and prayer. A twenty minute Bible study. Obviously, they didn’t get too far in their Bibles, and we wondered why we had gone to so much trouble to be there on time.
I cannot help but wonder how many other visitors give up and leave places like this. Do we think we have no obligation at all to them? Paul talks about the effect our assemblies have on the unbelievers who have come in 1 Cor 14:23-25. He obviously expected visitors. It isn’t some sort of OCD to want things done “decently and in order.” When I invite someone, I expect there to be someone besides me to greet them and interact with them. So does God.
We can piously, and a little self-righteously, tsk-tsk the ones who want things to end on time. Don’t be so quick to judge bad motives for that. Do you know the first question anyone I have ever invited asks? “What time will it be over?” They aren’t Christians yet. They have a life to live, and probably other commitments that day. If I can’t tell them they will be out of there by a certain time, they might not come at all. Especially in our culture, time and schedule are normal considerations if you want to make your services visitor-friendly. Eventually they will reach the point that time doesn’t matter to them—but not if we never make it possible for them to attend in the first place with inconsistent scheduling and a supercilious refusal to consider their needs.
I could go on. What about leaving them easy, un-embarrassing places to sit, especially if they arrive a little late? What about parking places?
Paul says that our consideration for outsiders will convict their hearts and prove that God is really among us. What do we prove when our selfish or lackadaisical attitudes keep anyone from even coming in the first place?
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. John 15:8