Genius BarAn odd thing happened last week. My wife’s Macbook Air stopped working. I was a bit flummoxed. This rarely happens. Then I remembered that I always buy AppleCare, and I just needed to take it to the Apple Store. I went online and, in a few clicks, made an appointment at the Genius Bar.

Next came the hard part. The nearest Apple Store to me is in a mall. There are three things that strike terror deep in my heart: Grizzly Bears, Dating, and Shopping Malls. They are, for me, the equivalent of a black hole, sucking all that is good in the world into a vortex of infinite retail mass.

As a shield of sorts from the consumeristic event horizon, I took my 9-year-old son with me. He thinks malls represent all that is good about the world. After a long detour through the Lego Store, we arrived at the Apple Store. My son made a b-line to an iPhone 6+ and remained glued to it for the entire visit. I wandered, dazed into the electronic equivalent of Golden Corral. Before I could get very far, a nice guy with an iPad greeted me and asked me if I needed help. Still stunned from the walk through the mall, I said something like, “Genius Bar… Will Rice.” The nice guy with the Ipad, said “Great!” and showed me to a stool at the Genius Bar and told me the name of the tech who would help me. My Genius Bartender (or Macrista?) showed up moments later, knew my name and started helping me.

I hope these guys love Jesus and serve at their church. Because, let me be honest, a lot more people would probably get to know Jesus if their experience visiting a church was a little more like my experience visiting the Apple Store.

I know, I know. It is an unfair comparison. Except it is not. Not at all. It is a totally fair comparison. The comparison is about this: focus.

Apple is a very successful corporation. Part of their success has come from creating a customer culture. Some refer to it as “The Cult of Mac.” There are “Mac People.” People put the Apple logo on their cars. When I went to the Apple Store on a Friday afternoon, it was packed! It was filled with Mac People and iPhone People and now iWatch people. They have plenty of customers; they are making plenty of money, their stock is doing great. Why didn’t they just ignore me when I walked in? I would have found my way to what I needed. Why do they bother employing people whose sole job is to welcome people into the store and point them in the right direction?

Because, they have focus.

I visit churches most Sundays. It is still an odd transition from being “the pastor” to being a visitor. Even though I have a lot of experience in churches, as an introvert, there is still a bit of anxiety for me walking into a church for the first time. Sure I know theology and church history. Yes, I am familiar with United Methodist hymnody and liturgy. However, every church is different. There are different rules, norms and expectations. And when I walk into a new church, a little anxious, a little unsettled, I don’t get a cool guy with an iPad helping me find my seat. I might get a perfunctory “good morning” and a bulletin. Or, if I am alone, I might get a suspicious look. (What is a man doing in church without a wife or kids?)

Why are so many churches so bad and welcoming people? Lack of focus.

You might think this is a blog post about hospitality. But it is not. Hospitality is important, but it is now considered to be this separate thing. Churches have hospitality committees and even hospitality staff. I am talking about focus. As a church, what are we doing? What is the point?

Apple, as a business, wants to bring as many people into the Apple fold as possible. It is how they make money. But what is our business? Is it important to us to bring as many people to Jesus as possible?

I know Apple is different. They pay their employees. But aren’t we all commissioned? (See what I did there?) When someone shows up at our church, there is a pretty good chance they are lost. They may just experienced something far more troubling than my trip through the mall. Don’t we want to do more than welcome them with a smile and a firm handshake? Don’t we want to do everything we can to help them get to what they need?

Next time I am in the mall, I am going to ask the Genius Bartender where she goes to church.

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