Photographer Richard Rinaldi has an interesting niche. His portraits are not of brides or high school seniors or business execs needing a new mug shot. His portraits are of strangers.
A recent feature on CBS Sunday Morning shows him on the streets of New York recruiting people who have never met and posing them as an enamored couple, long lost friends, high school buddies, grandson and grandmother. They hug, they hang on each other, they look longingly into the other’s eyes.
Amazingly, after a couple of minutes these hardened Big Apple strangers report they have real feeling for their fellow “models.” The awkward body language disappears, they become friends.
By pretending to love each other, they find that they actually begin to do so.
Church folks are really good at loving ourselves. We pray for the lady who usually sits three rows ahead of us but isn’t there today. We take casseroles to families where mom is in the hospital.
We’re even willing to go across the state, across the country or around the world to show a little love toward official United Methodist mission sites whose needy have been carefully vetted and have signed the waiver.
In a few weeks we will begin visitor season in the church. As school begins, seekers begin to wander uncomfortably into our sanctuaries, wondering if ours is the church they hope it is but are afraid it isn’t.
As one bright pastor said, “When people come to the church for the first time, they don’t want a tour of the nursery, they want to know if the church has love in its heart.”
The problem is we’re best at showing love after the visitor has attended regularly, gone through the new member class, filled out a pledge card and paid their dues either through teaching third grade Sunday school or washing dishes after the Swiss steak supper.
It takes perseverance to be loved.
What if we pretended to love them as soon as we spotted them? They’re easy to spot in worship: they stand up at the wrong time and have no idea why the usher is handing them a basket to pass.
What if at that moment we made up our mind to talk to them? To welcome them? To show’s God love not after the mandatory waiting period but the way God shows it to us, without conditions or hazing.
This fall, forget the nursery tour and show your visitors what they’re really looking for. You know, the same thing you love about your church.