Word of the Week

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

This past Sunday as I was preaching on the Luke lectionary text about Jesus being rejected in Nazareth, I had reason to ponder how small towns relate to their "homegrown" leaders. Or otherwise put, the how a person can belong to a community "where everybody knows your name" and still have the strength of character be true to God's calling.

The point I was hoping to make in the sermon is that "assumed familiarity" sometimes can work against you. In the case with Jesus, the entire town missed out on their opportunity for growth because they fixated on who they knew Jesus to be in the past. It might have just been better if upon hearing Jesus' sermon, they didn't know his name at all.

But, is being a part of a community where everybody knows your name always a negative?

Several months ago, with health and personal fitness atop the Hagan household goals, we joined a new gym close to our house. 

We picked this particular gym because of the schedule and offerings in its group excercise schedule (because I find myself much more motivated to keep at it longer in the company of those holding me accountable).

I began to settle in to participation in a late Wednesday night class, tagging along with another friend of our who is also a member of the gym and sometimes Kevin.

It is important here to note that I'm not one to make new friends at the gym. My approach is get in there, get it done and feel good about myself as I drive home.  However, this is not the style of our friend or my husband who seek to make a trip to the gym a complete social experience.

Before I knew it on one week, I found myself lingering after class and talking to the instructor with my crew. Come to find out her name is also Elizabeth. And, she was as nice of a person as skilled as she was in leading the class. My anonymity was gone, but I didn't expect that the teacher would remember me at the next class.

Then, the next week that I attended, I walked in the door and first thing I hear is: "Glad you are here, Elizabeth."

Wow, this was new! I was in the gym, the place where you expect impersonal treatment and somebody knew my name.

So, I decided to make it a weekly priority to attend this particular class, going to great lengths sometimes to work my other appointments around it.

Would I have gone to all of this trouble if the teacher hadn't made a point to greet me personally? Maybe, but maybe not either.

I actually felt really bad when an Advent class I was teaching over the course of December kept me from participating. And this was especially true when I heard through my friend (who kept participating) that Elizabeth asked about me in front of the entire class when I wasn't there.

I say all of this because my experience at the gym led me to ponder more how this exact scenario plays out in churches every Sunday.

I've haven't met a church who proclaims that "We don't want visitors to come back." But, what are churches doing to make sure that some first time attendees return?

Yes, some first-time guests come desiring to blend into the crowd, hoping that they can get in, get out and not be bothered. But some come hoping that somebody will see them and learn their name.

I am excited to go to my weekly class at the gym because I know my presence is noted and the leader is happy to see me. Maybe not everyone knows my name, but somebody does and it is a nice feeling.

Do people come back to our church after one visit because they feel the same way?

Knowing names is important. Making personal contacts is even more important. Levels of committment can be created with the simplest of gestures.

If you need me between 7:30-8:30 on Wednesday night, you know I'll be at the gym. And, on Sunday morning at 11 am, if you are in driving distance of Reston and looking for a loving community with which to worship, I'm hoping to see you at our church.