As anyone who works with children or youth knows, every now and then you have discipline issues in the program. This is especially detrimental when the actions of one or more students changes the behavior or feelings of one or more other students. So, as part of our attempt to get all of the students on the same page, we decided to adopt a group covenant. A couple of weeks ago, we sat down and asked ourselves as a group, "How do we want people to feel when they are here at our meetings?" And here are the responses they gave.
As we looked at this list, I began to notice a sort of heirarchy to these feelings. It brought to mind Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In essence, Maslow believed (I think rightly so) that there are basic needs and more complex needs. Basic needs are things like food, water, sleep, and warmth, while complex needs are needs for security, safety, and even love. When I asked the students which feeling on the list was the most basic, they first answered "loved". After all, God is love and Christ has called us to love our neighbors as ourselves, right? But when I asked them if people could feel loved if they did not feel safe, I got a different answer. It occurred to all of us that safety is the most important feeling one should have when visiting our ministry for the first time. We should not do anything to threaten their self esteem. We should not put them down, embarrass them, or say things that would make them feel uncomfortable.
While we did this in the context of youth ministry, how does that change things if our churches were safe places? Many times first-time visitors are just thrown to the wolves. I enjoyed this blog post about how many people in churches have forgotten what it's like to visit a church for the first time. So what about you? Is your church or ministry a safe place? What things do you do to put visitors at ease? What things could you do better? Please share your thoughts in a comment.