Monday, June 29, 2009

Getting Used to Disappointment

It's a familiar dance, played out over the dust and rocks of the last five years.

At around five minutes after the service start time, they come into the sanctuary. It's a young Anglo couple, perhaps in their mid-twenties. They get a bulletin, and find their way into an open section of seats in my over-large church. Attendance is even more sparse than usual, in the upper-mid-twenties.

The couple, who are dressed casually, look around at my rather unusual little flock. What they see isn't the great bunch of people that I've come to know over the past five years. They don't see the richness of perspective, or the array of very different personalities trying to grow in their faith.

What they see is that the building is almost entirely empty, with 80% of the seating unoccupied. The people who are there do not look like them in any way, outside of also being bipedal hominids. Of the twenty-eight souls present, only three are Caucasian...myself and two seniors. The remainder are Korean, with one or two pan-Asian exceptions. There are no visible families. The church is largely self-segregated by gender, a residual of its roots as a gender-segregated Korean youth group. It looks very little like anything you'd ever have encountered in either the contemporary evangelical church or in a mainline denomination. That doesn't mean it's bad. Just different. But difference is, more often than not, a deal-breaker.

Seeing them, I watch. I wait. They sing along quietly, and pass a few little whispers during the praise worship. He spends most of his time looking down. She catches my eye once, while I lead the prayer of confession. I see as they are warmly welcomed by the many good souls of the church during the passing of the peace, during which time I am obligated to set up my laptop for the sermon presentation. Moments later, as the first scripture is being read but before the sermon, I see them disappearing quietly out the side entrance.

Total elapsed time: perhaps 19 minutes.

This has happened dozens of times over the last five years, so it comes as little surprise. I am used to it. I expect it. Little idiosyncratic churches do not usually add random drop-ins to their number. It's not how we grow.

I always find myself wishing that I could talk with these folks, to get to know just a teeny bit about them, but not as a way of clinging to them in that hungry, desperate way that tends to overcome small congregations. I want to know what blend of circumstances brought them to us. Was it the website? Our Facebook ads? Just random happenstance? What? I want to hear what they're looking for, and even though it ain't us, want the opportunity to help them find a faith community that will lead them into a deeper connection with God.

But those things are not to be. It reminds me of this little exchange from a favorite movie:

Inigo Montoya: "Who ARE you!?
The Dread Pirate Roberts: "No one of consequence."
Inigo Montoya: "I must know!"
The Dread Pirate Roberts: "Get used to disappointment."