Have you ever noticed that you sometimes become so accustomed to a scent that you can no longer smell it? In my office, I’ve been recently annoyed by an occasional tiny gnat. Through the collective wisdom of the internet, I identified my potted plants as the likely origin of the insects. The most common solution seemed to be setting out a container of vinegar, so I partially filled a cup with some cleaning vinegar I found under the sink and placed it next to the plants. For the rest of the day, I noticed the smell, but it didn’t seem very strong. With each passing day, I noticed it less and less. When I opened my office after the weekend, however, the vinegar odor was powerful. I was willing to tolerate the smell in order to rid myself of the gnats, but I quickly realized that my coworkers might not be so understanding. It was evident that I had become nose-blind to the smell. I dumped out the vinegar to preserve harmony among my office neighbors.
I suspect that a phenomenon similar to nose-blindness afflicts many of us in our churches. Our senses adapt to what we typically experience in our buildings. We stop noticing things—the sights, the sounds, the smells. Newcomers, however, come to our churches with keen senses. They experience our buildings in very different ways. How do guests experience your church? To what are their eyes drawn as they enter your front door? (Assuming they can identify which door is the main entrance.) What do they hear as they make their way toward the sanctuary? Dare I ask what they might smell?
If our churches are to be places guests find appealing, we need to re-sensitize ourselves to our church environments. First, try purposefully observing your church building. Sit in your lobby or entry area. Look around. Listen. Smell. Do the same in your worship space. What stands out to you either positively or negatively? What assets can your church develop? What deficiencies do you need to address? Second, talk to people who are new to your church. What did they notice or experience when they first came? Finally, invite a friend to visit your church for the expressed purpose of reporting back to you on his or her experience.
In the end, that we’ve become accustomed to our churches is a consequence of a good thing, but we shouldn’t become complacent. You should feel (mostly) comfortable in your church building. Our disciple-making task, however, encourages us to be sensitive to others’ experiences as they encounter our worshiping community for the first time. We want people to be drawn toward God and drawn toward connecting with other Christians. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to become accustomed to that which others might find unpleasant. To what might you have grown nose-blind?