Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Welcoming Places

I go to Panera Bread quite often. It is usually alive with customers, many with lap top computers open and others reading or deep in a discussion. The Panera close to a school has a good deal of business from the students and

Mothers come with infants in tow as well as business people dressed in Black and Navy Stripes. I often see men discussing the Bible or a Christian book and women seem to love gathering there to pray and chat.

Why? Why does Panera attract so many customers from different age groups, vaocational areas and lifestyle preferences? How is it that this particular dinning place is open for business from 6:00 AM til 9:00 PM?

What do they know that so many other resteraunts evidently miss? I am amazed they have so much business when others have so little.

Churches are similar. Few draw people to their meeting places during the week. Why not? What do they have that churches need? How do they draw so many people of all ages and we struggle?
Write me with your insights and ideas and I will post them on this blog.


paula clare said...

Hi Gary,
You know, I was thinking that maybe the reason Panera Bread sees the crowds and churches don't is that the expectations are so very different. When we go to Panera bread, we are expected to perhaps purchase a coffee or a sandwich, and then just hang out and be who we are, visit someone we enjoy spending time with, and then go home. We can stay as long as we want, do as much or as little as we want, and there is no pressure to DO or BE anything. We can have conversations about things that are important to us, without fear of being met with judgment or criticism.

When we go to church, even the most welcoming church, there are expectations. We're expected to come into a foreign space,smile and be friendly to whomever we meet. We are expected to participate in something that we may or may not understand, do things we may or may not be comfortable doing,(sitting in the midst of a crowd or with strangers, standing for long periods of time, singing in a crowd, etc etc) and then we are asked for money or information or both (asking BEFORE hosting) and then we are expected to listen to and accept the word of the person in the pulpit. We may or may not have any frame of reference for what he or she is speaking about. If we have questions, we just have to hold them and/or be okay with not asking. (We don't want to appear stupid). And then we weave our way OUT of the church while folks who are clearly more familiar with this scene than we, chat and laugh and make plans to go somewhere for lunch.

I ask you...what ARE we supposed to gain from that situation? Where and HOW are relationships built? What is supposed to DRAW US into this scenario again and again?

Makes one wonder how churches have lasted so long, doesn't it?

Gary Sweeten said...

Paula, I have always marveled at the fact that bars have people in them from morning til night. I wonder if we don't need to think about having coffee bars open day and night to accomodate lonely folks who need a warm, caring place to sit and chill out. Buildings of the future will need to consider how to draw folks in with hospitality, love and caring. We had a Walk in Clinic at U of Cincinnati back in the day and it was very successful. HMMMM!