As we wrap up our annual summer clean-out of the parish, please enjoy a classic post:
Often, parish leaders have a major weakness when it comes to keeping their church campus and space attractive for guests.
It’s the same problem you have with your house: when you spend so much time in a place, you become blind to its flaws and imperfections.
You stop noticing:
- the dead shrubs along the parking lot
- the ever-growing collection of brochures and CDs in your lobby for programs you aren’t even sure exists anymore
- the crowded bulletin board advertising dozens of events competing for attention and dollars
- the multitude of unused, broken, dirty toys in your kid’s cry space or nursery
- the used Kleenex stuffed into the pew pockets
- the dying floral arrangement left over from Friday’s funeral
You might not notice, but your guests do, it’s all among the first things they notice.
There’s dirt. And then there is clutter. Wikipedia defines clutter as “a confusing or disorderly state or collection, visual pollution.” Dirt makes your guests uncomfortable and tells them not only are they not important to you, but the place also isn’t important to you either. Clutter, on the other hand, is different, it is an insidious enemy of the good, it is ruthlessly invasive and ultimately counterproductive to your mission and ministry.
There is no excuse for a dirty church. None. If your church is dirty, stop every else you’re doing and start cleaning. But after you tackle the dirt deal with the clutter.
Here are three reasons you should ruthlessly eliminate clutter from your church:
1) Clutter makes people uncomfortable.
Like dirt, cluttered spaces actually make people feel uncomfortable. Scientists have demonstrated that clutter can trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can increase tension and anxiety. Clutter makes it difficult to relax. There are just too many visual stimuli vying for your attention.
Attending a new church for the first time can already be stressful, especially if you are not a church person. You wonder whether you are welcome, whether you stand out, and whether you will be asked to do something with which you are uncomfortable. Clutter can only make this worse.
2) Clutter crowds out your message.
Clutter competes for the attention of your guests. If you are trying to preach about the evils of greed but there are still stewardship cards in the pews from last week, your guests might get mixed messages. Even positive messages like brochures to sign up for a new children’s ministry can crowd out the message of the weekend if you are making a pitch from the pulpit for people to become hospitality ministers.
Not only can clutter distract from your message, but it might also actually work against it. Clutter signals to your guests that you are unorganized and unprepared. If you don’t have your house in order, then why would someone listen to you?
3) Clutter looks like no one is in charge.
Clutter is inevitably made up of objects that have withstood seasons or even years of reluctantly refusing to be thrown out or properly stored. My favorites are the multiplication of chairs in a sanctuary that aren’t ever really used anymore, the clutter that inevitably accompanies most music ministry (even when it is in plain sight), and the best of all: lifeless Christmas poinsettias still adorning the altar in February. It just looks like nobody is in charge or cares very much.
Here’s an idea: Invite someone who is not a member of your parish to walk with you through your campus and ask them to tell you what they see. It might be eye-opening. Our Rebuilt team can even do this for you. We’ll come to your parish and observe everything that happens on a typical weekend. At the end of the weekend, we’ll offer some thoughts and recommendations about the things outsiders might notice about your parish.