February 19, 2018

Welcoming Visitors?

“Your church passed,” the visitor told me.

As part of her ministry, this person visits different church almost every Sunday. Invariably she thinks about the health of the congregation. But she doesn’t use typical parochial report measures—and for that matter, neither do most visitors! Big numbers of people in worship doesn’t automatically merit a passing grade. Neither does an inspirational sermon. She doesn’t count the breadth of announcements for events or the number of heads in the children’s choir.

Nope. One of her key measurements is the cleanliness of the bathroom.

If the bathroom is scrubbed and fresh, she explained, then it’s a sign that the congregation takes care of its facilities and cares about its members and visitors. A dirty bathroom is a sign of bigger problems.

Our visitor isn’t alone in her evaluation. Think how many times you’ve judged a restaurant, business, or gas station by the cleanliness of the restrooms. If the bathroom is dirty, I’m probably not going back, even if the steak cuts like butter or the convenient store has my favorite flavor of Icee.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a church. I began to sit on a chair and could tell immediately that the legs were about to give way. When I showed one of the members, she said that several of their chairs were wobbly. And two of the pews had broken in the last week—when people sat on them during worship.

I would never return to a church if I had sat on a pew that then broke. I might even move to a new town.

Details of cleanliness and regular maintenance matter. This isn’t a church-size issue. While our congregation normally has a part-time sexton, he has been out on medical leave for six weeks. Volunteers have signed up to help keep the facilities clean, vacuuming, dusting, and yes, scrubbing toilets. (Ah, the glories of church membership).

The issue is whether we are taking the time to pay attention to these issues. When I searched online, I could find several annual maintenance calendars: In April, check for birds’ nests in the gutters. In September, check the furnace. But I didn’t see a checklist for day-to-day upkeep: Are the sidewalks clear of debris? Is the stair rail secure? Are the trash cans regularly emptied, and the narthex cleaned of last week’s bulletins? Do the bathrooms sparkle and are the chairs sturdy?

I encourage vestries to develop and follow checklists for routine upkeep. You don’t want your chance of welcoming visitors to be flushed down the toilet.