Almost everyone has been a “new” person at some point. And we typically like it. After all being “new” often comes with perks, some sort of special treatment. Perhaps you’ve been one of the new people...
when you got the new-customer phone pricing with your cell phone company.
at a restaurant you’ve visited for the first time.
with a special introductory interest rate on a new credit card.
in a frequent-flyer program.
as a bank customer.
when you subscribed to a magazine for the first time.
I’ve been one of the new people on a number of occasions. For example, I’ve subscribed as a paying customer to a number of different cell phone companies over the past several years. Without exception each company courted me with special offers: free phones; additional services for an introductory period; or upgraded, full-feature phones for a fraction of the retail cost. Just for signing up (yes, with a two-year binding contract). All for me because I was new. It felt good to be one of the new people.
Each time I made a contractual agreement, kind people were available to help me understand the phone I’d selected, set up my new account, and answer my questions. “This company cares about me!” I thought.
And then (sooner rather than later) I wasn’t new anymore. I was just a customer. A contractually bound customer. Crap.
No more free phones, no more free music subscriptions, no more free anything. I wasn’t new. Not anymore.
You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?
But, I’ve noticed that we tend to treat inanimate objects in much the same manner. Many of us tend to treat things—from cars to tennis shoes— better when they’re still new. We wash a new car every few days and avoid getting dirt on our new shoes. But give that car or pair of shoes a few months, and our attentiveness subsides. We wash the car less often and stop being so guarded with our shoes. We treat them differently.
Here’s what I know. The value of a cell phone, a pair of shoes, or an automobile depreciates over time.
But humans are different.
Many churches roll out the red carpet for first-time guests. Gifts are given. Special information stations are provided. There’s intentional care given to not only welcome guests, but in doing so, willingly meet them where they are. Regardless their story, questions, challenges or journey, first-time guests are loved on by local churches.
The challenge comes weeks later, months after that and year past that.
When our once-first-time guest is no longer new, it’s quite possible, even probable, that the local church treats them just that way: no longer new. Churches are often less willing to meet those same people as they did their first weekend: right where they are.
Why is this? Is behavior modification our agenda? Do we expect them to now be where we are? Are our classes and tracks supposed to have assimilated them to be one of us by now? And if they aren’t where we think they should be: part of a group, volunteering in our ministries, attending services every weekend, inviting their friends and giving faithfully - if they haven’t arrived here, are they treated differently? Differently then when they were new for the first time and we willingly met them right where they are?
We know this: What was true about human beings when they were new is still true about them today. They still have the same intrinsic, God-given worth. They remain image-bearers of God. And they are where they are: whether it’s their first week, first month, or tenth year.
What does it mean to continue to meet people right where they are - even when they are no longer new?