When first-time guests walk up to our church door on a Sunday morning, what runs through their heads? I have long wondered what the average person must be contemplating as he or she grabs that front door handle and gives it a pull. What hopes, dreams or apprehensions are linked with imagining themselves landing in this congregation?

Having had later conversations with many of those onetime guests, I am ready to draw a conclusion. Ninety percent of the people who come to our church for the first time arrive with an impression of Christianity that is markedly different in tone and content from the variety of faith we practice as a congregation.

On the one hand, this shouldn't be surprising. There is no reason to expect that the perspective of an arriving guest should match that of the people inside who are familiar with the place. On the other hand, these newcomers look enough like those inside to suggest a basic fit. Nothing in their demeanor would indicate anything less than a contented match for the spirit of who we seek to be and what we profess as a congregation. They initiate the visit. They muster the courage to get out of their car. They must have some sense of who we are or what they might be in for. Or so one would think.