Recently my husband and I visited Melbourne. I love Melbourne: its cosmopolitan vibe seems to ooze out of every corner and every tram stop. But on this particular trip, my husband was working, and I had a rare moment of being alone in this wondrous city. So, what did I do? I did what any sane woman would do. I shopped.
After I had finished my shopping, I walked past a nail salon. This particular Salon had a sign out the front, advertising a special. I could get my nails done for 10 dollars. And I thought … well, Sarah, this is a rarity—you have time. You have no children with you. You have 10 dollars. Why not? I say to myself—it’ll be relaxing.
I have a confession, I’ve never been to a nail salon. My nails and I were feeling vulnerable.
I tentatively walk through the door, but quickly become uncomfortable. Why, do you ask? Ok, I have a confession, I’ve never been to a nail salon. That’s right, you heard me. I am 40 years old, and I’ve never had my nails painted by anyone but my friends. I’m not sure if I’m proud or mortified by that fact. Suffice to say, my nails and I were feeling vulnerable. Unfortunately, the Vietnamese staff didn’t seem to understand my vulnerability in this brand-new world of buffers and polish. No, quite the contrary, for as soon as I had fumbled through the door a not-so-friendly attendant started giving orders.
Choose a Colour!
She asked me if I wanted nails and colour: I replied “yes, that’d be great”. She tells me to choose a colour but I misunderstand her direction, not sure what she wants me to choose. I’m clearly very bad at this nail thing. She says, frustration building – “you choose a colour”. Oh right—I think, I’m really slow.
Ok, Nail Salon 101, you choose a colour. I got this. I can do it. I can choose a colour.
A few seconds later, my eyes are still searching. There are maybe 500 colours on the wall! And I thought this was supposed to be relaxing? But this nail journey hasn’t beaten me yet. Ok, I think, let’s go … natural—natural is safe.
So I choose a natural pearl colour that I think would be relatively harmless. I point it out to the attendant. However, my message seems lost in translation: she points to the one a few shades down from the natural pearl I wanted, saying “Ok this one” (a pale pink). I stutter, “oh no -um, this one”, pointing at the original colour I had so meticulously scanned out and predestined to be mine. “This one”, she says, pointing at ‘pale pink’ again. I acquiesce. Ok … . I’ll take the pale pink—that’ll do, I think to myself. Whatever it takes to silence the nail colour inquisition.
But before I sit down, the attendant says. “You pay.” And I’m thinking, really– you haven’t even done anything yet! It must have shown on my face because she then said, “You pay first, then we do nails.” Rightio. She clearly hasn’t cottoned on the fact that I have no idea how this all works. And she doesn’t seem to be helping me to understand what’s going on either.
I wish I could tell you this story got better, but it didn’t. I felt anything but relaxed. I felt anything but comfortable. I felt unwelcome in this alien new kingdom of nails.
I didn’t fit, and it was showing. It wasn’t long before I began to regret my choice of $10 nails.
We Forget What It’s Like To Be Brand New
So, what can we learn from my endeavour to join the nail kingdom? (Other than how uncomfortable Sarah is in a nail parlour!) Well, I think there are some nice parallels that might remind us about what it’s like to be new at church.
Many of us have been in churches for so long we forget what it’s like to be new, feeling nervous and out of place. We think that many things are obvious, and we don’t need to point them out. But in that nail parlour I needed clear, kind direction. I needed all those cues telling me what was happening, and what I should do. I needed people saying, “Hi, I’m Cynthia, and here’s how it all works here.” Or better yet: “come with me, let me show you!” Instead of distracted nail technicians, I needed a gracious guide who would lovingly show me how the salon works, and what it looks like to fit in. Likewise, newcomers at church need such gracious guidance. Because no one wants to stick out in a new environment.
Newcomers at church need gracious guidance, showing them what it looks like to fit in. Because no one wants to stick out in a new environment.
As humans, we crave melding in—especially in unfamiliar surroundings. Welcomers at church need to point out the obvious (like it’s never been heard before). For example, tell a newcomer where they can sit (usually it’s anywhere—but good to let them know), where the toilets are, where the refreshments are, tell them that people mingle before the service and you can sit down when the music starts, that sort of thing. These things might be obvious to you—but that information is valuable to a newcomer.
We forget that Church language can be foreign to non-Christians
When the nail technician wasn’t giving instructions, she was speaking to her employees in rapid spurts of Vietnamese. Not only did I have to try and figure out the nail jargon—there was another language that added to my confusion.
While we generally speak English at church (unless we run ethnic services), it doesn’t mean newcomers understand us. Church jargon can be foreign to newcomers!
We now live in an age where most people are unchurched
Unlike our parent’s generation, many newcomers have never been to church. And so, we need to be particularly aware of how being in a church building might feel, let alone the whole congregational singing (which, for our culture, is increasingly foreign). Not to mention a Bible talk—that takes strangeness to a new level!
Sometimes we forget to be nice
I don’t think the nail technicians in Melbourne knew that I was new. I don’t think they picked up on the subtle cues that I had no idea what I was doing. I don’t think they were intentionally unfeeling or unwelcome—they were simply busy, and forgot to be nice.
As Christians, we can’t afford that. We can’t afford for new people to be missed: for newcomers to be left alone, thinking we’re uncaring. We can’t afford to be so busy with our Christian friends that we miss the new person. We can’t afford to leave welcoming to the welcomers at the door. Newsflash—we are all welcomers. If you go to church and profess Jesus as Lord, you are a welcomer to those who don’t know him.
We are all called to welcome unbelievers into the Kingdom.
Although I walked away regretting my 10 dollar nails, it’s really no big deal. At worst, it makes for a funny story to share with friends. But regretting coming to Church because of how unwelcome you felt? Now, that is a big deal.