In the church, we talk a lot about the need for authenticity and inviting people just as they are. It could be tempting to extrapolate from that and say, “Appearances don’t really matter.” Well, they do. This isn’t just true for churches. It’s true for businesses and individuals with goals too.
I just got a sandwich from a restaurant that had some kind of gunk on the door handles. Take a look at the picture on the right. I don’t know what that goo on the door was, but it didn’t exactly make me feel good about the cleanliness of the kitchen that my sandwich would be prepared in. I mean the employees have to walk past that every day and they never cleaned it up talked to someone about getting it fixed.
You may have read the same studies I have about the ways people judge churches (and restaurants and other businesses) by the condition of the parking lot and the restrooms. It would be nice if people would assume, “This church is using all of its resources to feed the hungry and provide safe drinking water in Africa.” I’m afraid they’re more likely to think, “If they don’t take proper care of the parking lot, how can I trust that they’ll take good care of my child.” Or try this one for churches: “If they don’t understand how to maintain their facilities, I wonder if I can trust what their leadership says and does today.”
A church may make the conscious decision to be informal. That’s not saying that appearances don’t matter. It’s saying, “We’re going to choose an appearance that’s more likely to make newcomers feel comfortable.” Or it could be saying, “We are deliberately going to be informal because that’s who we are.” Those appearance choices might be perceived as “not caring about appearance,” but they are really an affirmation that appearances of the facility and those in leadership do matter.
So, did I go in and have a sandwich anyway? Yep. Was I really comfortable about it? No. Will that place be my first choice next time? No. If you see a lot of people come to your church for the first time and not come back, you might want to do an audit of the messages you’re (possibly inadvertently) sending to those who attend. But more on that another time!