The other day I took a truckload of debris to the county "transfer station"--not really a dump, I guess. I'd been there before to get rid of some household hazardous waste, and what a wonderful thing that was, as people dressed in hazmat suits unloaded the stuff that I had loaded bare-handed into the car and took it away. Where do they take it? I do not know.
But the transfer station was a different deal. I was getting rid of the last of the broken brick pavers from the back-yard re-do. I pulled up to the transfer station entry; a friendly woman popped her head out and asked what I was getting rid of. I explained; she said, "You're good to go." But go where? "Just go straight ahead and pull in; someone will tell you where to go."
I went straight ahead to a huge hanger-like building. I pulled in. I honked the horn. I listened to the birds squabbling for a while. No one appeared. I pulled out.
I went to another entry where there was a person. I pulled in. She asked what I was getting rid of. I explained. She said, "Oh, you need to go over there," pointing to an area down below. I thanked her. I pulled out. I drove down the road--and found myself leaving the transfer station.
I pulled around to the entrance again. The friendly woman popped out. I said, "Hello, again. I still don't know where to go." She said, "Go straight ahead and a little to the left and someone will tell you."
I explained that I had just done that and I had been told I needed to get to a place beyond that; how do I get there?
She pointed and said, "Just follow the road there." I thanked her. I drove on, past the original building, over and down beyond where there was a man with a rake.
I rolled down the window and asked where to go. He gestured to one of the huge piles of debris. I pulled up alongside it. He told me to back in. I backed in. He went back to raking debris. I sat in the truck for a while. He continued raking.
I finally yelled over to him, "Is it ok if I just unload this on the pile?" He said yes and continued raking. I unloaded my debris and drove off.
What I learned: being friendly is not enough.
The woman at the entrance was perfectly friendly and cordial. What I needed in addition to that was complete information.
Of course it made me think of church (because almost everything makes me think of church). Although it's good to be greeted by friendly people, if you are new to a church, and especially if you are new to church culture and behavior, you need guidance on what to do and where to go.
When people come to church of their own volition when they have never been to church before and have not been brought by a friend, then it seems clear they really want to be there. I hate to think of how we frustrate people by withholding information that would make their first experience more pleasant.