Back in the dark ages before Priceline and Hotels.com, do you remember what it was like to drive on a road trip and look for a hotel? You’d always look for the sign. Was the “no” light on? If so, the glaring “NO VACANCY” light would send you down the road to the next town. Every now and then, a careless front desk clerk would accidentally leave the “no” light on from the night before and cause the hotel to miss out on some real business.
Sometimes churches accidentally leave a “no vacancy” sign out. They communicate to people that they aren’t really welcome. Can I tell you how it happens?
If we don’t make room for our guests to sit together, we’re hanging up a no vacancy sign. It’s hard enough to go to a new church. It’s even harder if you don’t get to sit with your family. Don’t get me started on telling someone “that’s my seat.” (I want to be snarky and say that the seat might be saved, but the person saving it might not be!)
If we sit in the same place and talk to the same people, we’re hanging up a no vacancy sign. Without meaning to, we communicate that we already have friends, thank you very much, and you didn’t make the cut.
If we don’t make an effort to learn names, we’re hanging a no vacancy sign. I know names are hard. Nobody is actually good at it, but if someone visits us for 6 months and we still act like we don’t know them, they’re going to get the idea that we never will.
If we talk like insiders, we’re hanging up a no vacancy sign. Churches love to have cutesy names for things—that’s not a problem. The problem is when we fail to explain them. Inside jokes make everyone else outsiders. Outsiders see a no vacancy sign.
If we insist on our preferences and our traditions—not the things that are biblical, but all the other stuff—we are hanging a no vacancy sign for everyone who has a different preference.
If we never make an effort to get outside the walls of our building, if we never go out to where the community is, and if we don’t foster creative opportunities to interact with people for the kingdom’s sake, we haven’t just hung a no vacancy sign—we’ve taken our sign down altogether and acted confused when nobody arrives.
Churches don’t hang no vacancy signs on purpose, but unfortunately, they do it all the time.