Moving from Phoenix to Tucson, my first order of business was to find an "old gomer" basketball group. I play basketball twice weekly. It is great exercise. Enough basketball allows old guys the luxury of eating a cheeseburger every now and again without getting as big as a house. But I was surprised, finding a new group to play with is difficult. I went to the new gym in time for choosing teams for the pickup game. So as not to appear too eager to these guys, I stood on the sidelines, dribbling the ball, watching others warm up. Next I cautiously made (and missed) a few practice shots which indicated that a) I was not terrible and b) I would love to have an invitation to join in the anticipated pick up game. Teams were chosen and I was not.
Standing on the sidelines I watched the first game thinking "I'll get in for the second game," but I was wrong. The second game came and went. The third game began and there I was, standing on the outside looking in.
Our local churches are no different. Many folks come to worship, are first time and repeat visitors, longing to belong, yet we let them stand on the sidelines, wistfully dribbling the ball, and never invite them into the game. We enjoy playing the game with our long time friends and others are welcome to watch, but we are reluctant to rotate new comers in.
Human beings long to belong to something. On my fourth try, the group grudgingly let me play. I worked hard to learn the local rules and vowed to pass the ball to recognized court leaders when it came my turn. I ran the floor with energy, found myself open, anticipated the pass from others but no one let me touch the ball.
I will give it one more chance because my longing to belong is overwhelming. But I don't know how long I can last with this group. If something doesn't change, and fast, I will either look for another group in a different location, try to start my own group, or give up basketball altogether. It is the same with visitors to worship. Faced with these choices, most of our visitors will choose to give up church altogether.