I recently read a report which explored the psychology of memory and decision making: it seems we make future decisions based on past experiences. It is really important that we have a bank of positive memories to draw on when we are faced with the next opportunity to choose again. That’s why companies such as John Lewis or First Direct bank invest so much in customer service, making sure that whether it’s your first contact or your 50th contact, you have a good memory to store away for the next time you make a decision.
This struck me as particularly pertinent for the Church of England, and particularly important for those of whose ministry involves Life Events – those incredibly important moments for people when they ask us to help them mark the arrival of a child in their family, a commitment into a relationship or the loss of someone they knew and loved.
Each experience is an opportunity to build a positive encounter with God and God’s people
Christenings, weddings and funerals bring us into contact with two groups of people: those at the heart of the event who we get to meet, and those who come along as guests on the day. The Church of England still has an incredible reach into the population through these events, with in excess of 15 million people a year attending these services. For some of these people this will be their first time to be in a church building or to meet a minister leading a service – and being met with real hospitality adds to the special memories of the day.
Each experience is an opportunity to build a positive encounter with God and God’s people, to speak of the good news of Jesus, and to leave people with something to draw on the next time they are given an opportunity to encounter church or the Gospel.
The Life Events research revealed that many people are anxious about church, or have a bank of negative memories based on family stories or TV dramas which show clergy as remote, impersonal or hapless people. Every encounter that is positive, every warm smile and personal invitation begins to change perceptions. It works towards ‘breaking up the unploughed ground’ – and who knows where that might lead?