Nursery in A Catacomb

When your church building was built in the 1960’s, you expect some flaws to show up. Cracks in the concrete sidewalk, old (layers of) paint, creaky floors, the occasional drips from antiquated plumbing and toilet seats that really should be replaced. We just never got around to it.

Not every fellowship has a new mega-church facility or a paved parking lot. Many have small brick buildings with plenty of 10 year old gravel still showing through the grass where folks park on Sunday mornings.

I am totally comfortable with that. Especially when your fellowship is small and people have gone through decades together with the pastor. Weddings, funerals, just about every life-experience you can imagine. It’s a bond that is forged with love of God’s Word, time and perseverance through trials and testing. It’s the kind of bonding that stands true-blue when you hold hands in a circle after the Lord’s Supper and sing:

Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love;
the fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.

As sweet as it is, let’s be honest. As preachers of God’s Word, we’d love to see new visitors join the church and live a commitment to it. We get a little excited when new faces show up. We become hopeful. “Maybe, just maybe, the Lord will lead them to stay.”

I know what that’s like. And when it doesn’t happen, and you never see that family again, you wonder what happened. Was it the preaching? Did they not agree with our doctrinal statement?

Who knows, it could be any number of reasons. When a visiting family tells you that they won’t be returning because there are no children – and they have 13 -  it hurts. If they would stay, then the next family that comes wouldn’t be able to say that. But alas…

Sometimes brethren, it’s just the nursery.

I remember we had a family visit one Sunday, and they enthusiastically appreciated the sermon. They agreed with our doctrinal statement. Everything was looking promising. Then, after the service…they asked to see the nursery. Good sign, I thought. I took them downstairs, walked down the hallway of painted cinder blocks filled with the unmistakable musk of a 1965 building. I opened the door to the nursery. It was clean.

Crib? Check.
Plenty of toys? Check.
Children’s books for all ages? Check.
Clean floors? Absolutely check.

Everything a nursery needed, it had. But that wasn’t enough. The moment I opened the door and brought them in, I saw the look on their faces, and it was disappointment. “Why?” I thought. All they said was, “Hmm.”

You would’ve thought we were offering a nursery in a catacomb, but we weren’t. It had heating, air-conditioning, toys, it was clean and sanitized, the whole ball of wax, everything they needed.

We never saw them again, and I wish I had outright asked them what the problem was. But I didn’t.

I will tell you this. The moment I saw the disappointment in their faces, it broke my heart, and after they left, I wanted to cry.

The Word of God was being faithfully preached. The fellowship was warm and genuine. Invitations for lunch were offered. In the grand scheme of things, we had it all and it was theirs for the taking. But, we were passed by.

Shortly afterward, in the weeks to follow, I enlisted members to completely overhaul the nursery. We repainted, purchased a fancy new crib. We replaced the carpet. We did everything we could think of to improve the nursery, and you know what? Families after that still didn’t stay.

The whole experience was a reminder of God’s providence in our lives. The temptation to do something and try and get people to stay and join our fellowship is not only found in mega-churches led by absurd heretics, it’s also found in small, country churches where the Word of God is faithfully proclaimed and the fellowship is lovingly biblical, warm and inviting.

It just comes in a different magnitude of visibility.