People at our church have been talking about how we welcome visitors, or people who are new to our church. At the same time, people ask why some people have left. And so I've been thinking about these things on so many different levels - how we are welcomed wherever we go (the hello), why we choose to stay, and why we may decide to leave, or decide not to return. This broadens past church and may include a coffee store, a school, any organization, work - really anywhere. Why do we choose to go, to stay, and sometimes to leave?
For church I chose to go because it was near where I lived at the time. I was going to a lot of churches. I kept going back because something resonated with me - it honestly wasn't the members mainly because I thought you went to church just to go, listen, and leave. I liked the services and the sermons left me with a message that stayed with me. But a major part of why I chose to go was because the church was accessible for what I needed (everyone with a disability is different in what they need), even though I could walk using a walking stick. The church wasn't HUGE - at a time when all new churches seem HUGE. The sanctuary was more broad than lengthy and it didn't have stairs. The bathroom was not a mile away from the santurary, and the parking was close to the doors of the church. And the parking lot wasn't jammed full. Yup - that stuff was important. I'm still there because there's something about it that makes me feel like it's a kind of family. Something still resonates with me; my daughter loves it there; it's the place where I've found peace and help when I've been at very low points. The services are still good and the sermons still stick. Perhaps I can imagine why people might leave, but I feel like instead of saying what bothers them and discussing it, they just leave. That's up to them, but it's not what I would do. Regardless, I suppose the point is that something makes some people say goodbye - well, they leave.
The hello/goodbye thoughts started at church but now almost wherever I go, I think about hello and goodbye. For example, my daughter and I were at an outdoor mall (where the stores are indoor). We parked at the bookstore and I planned to go to the eyeglass store and then back to the bookstore, so parking was convenient. Wrong. Everytime I found a curbcut, the sidewalk seemed to lead to a curb with no curbcut. It was cold. I was frustrated and angry. This would be so easy for anyone else. Rather than an easy, shorter path between stores, this was the longest possible route. Employees at the eyeglass store, when we eventually got there, were nice. But then getting to the bookstore - the ramp was off to the side; inside the store the Starbucks was elevated and the ramp was to the side. I could understand if the stores were old, but this was a pretty new mall and a pretty new bookstore. And it may seem no big deal to those without mobility issues that those with mobility issues have to go around and up different entrances, but it's annoying... think of it as separate but equal - does that ever work? It's the opposite of welcoming - we'll go back to pick up glasses, but that's it for this mall. Hello, and goodbye. I want to go in the same entrances as others. I don't want to have to go further. So goodbye. There are other places.
Wherever one goes, subconsciously there is a hello/stay/goodbye sequence. For work, a person searches for a job and part of this involves whether they feel welcomed, unless they are desperate. They then stay for at least a little while. Then there are crossroads where employees decide to stay or go. Part of this involves whether the place they work is still welcoming. Wherever I go, I also contemplate whether employees seem happy, and if so, why. People may choose to leave where they work for many reasons, but it's still about continuing to feel welcomed, or valued. or appreciated. If they lose these, they may say goodbye.
So looking at these things and thinking of other places, what is it that makes people say hello and then stay, but also say goodbye? What I do know is this. I think to welcome people, there has to be an environment where people are happy and want to stay. So people at any church have to be happy and then that will show and new people will feel welcomed. Other places have to be set up to be welcoming before people arrive, not after people get frustrated and have left. Employees have to be happy - then new employees feel welcomed and stay - this welcoming can then be felt by customers who feel welcomed and want to stay. It's not just one thing anywhere - it's a series of related things that create welcoming and staying. I think, in this economy, it's rare that it all works. When it has worked more commonly in the past, it has been beautiful. But I also don't think we need a good economy for "welcoming" and "staying" to work. And it is there, I suppose, where I get stuck on how we do that in more places than just a few.