IKEA and the Large Church, Part 5: Assembly Required

During the past weeks, I have chronicled the details of my first—and by the grace of God, LAST—visit to IKEA. The Swedish home good stores left an indelible mark upon my psyche.

However, preachers notoriously use all of life’s experience as fodder for sermons. So I have written a series of blogs comparing and contrasting IKEA and the Large Church.

IKEA’s first floor contains acres of warehouse space called the Self-Serve Furniture Area. Swedish elves magically pack furniture into “flat-pack” boxes. In-house chiropractors treat foolish consumers who attempt to lift any container alone.

Signs proclaim the Scandinavian furniture is Ready to Assemble. This prevarication falls under the heading of Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics. The assembly of IKEA furniture has reduced Georgia Tech engineers and MIT post-grads to frustrated tears.

First, there are no words to describe IKEA’s instructions. Literally—there are no words. IKEA InstructionsInstead, the company uses pictograms to depict the step-by-step-by-step-by-step-by-step directions. For parents who have screamed profanities while assembling LEGO toys with their children, it’s like that—only worse.

IKEA gnomes have developed proprietary hardware for furniture reconstruction. Doodads, thingamabobs, gizmos, and doohickeys join infinite pieces in incomprehensible ways. The end result either resembles the picture on the box or an ACE Hardware Store that threw up on the floor.

The Large Church also comes from God Read to Assemble. With Christ Jesus as the cornerstone, the Spirit builds us block by block and life by life into a holy temple.

At times, the assembly process can be messy and frustrating. Some parts must be deconstructed and then reconstructed. Over time, however, the Lord works in, through, and despite us to create something greater than ourselves.

The Church is both gift and goal. We ARE the body of Christ . . . and we are BECOMING the body of Christ.

Perhaps the church sign out front should read: Assembly Required.

IKEA and the Large Church, Part 4: Not Actual Size

Until my first visit to IKEA, I never equated shopping and dining. Well, I usually eat a $1.50 hot dog and soda at Costco, but it hardly qualifies as haute cuisine. The Swedish home good store, however, features multiple epicurean opportunities .

The entrance features a full-service restaurant with Scandinavian-inspired dishes, including Swedish meatballs and salmon. A indiscriminate gourmand could consume a full breakfast, lunch, and supper for under $10.

The Swedish Food Market offers take-home options for those who just cannot get enough of roe sauce, sill dill, lax kallrokt, and sprat rolls. Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up.

The dining experience continues with an exit café called the Bistro which features warm cinnamon rolls originally invented by—who-would-have-guessed-it—the Swedes!

IKEA Cinammon RollDuring my escape from IKEA, a large sign over the checkout counters caught my eye. The ten-foot-wide poster pictured a tantalizing breakfast roll oozing with sugar, cinnamon, and frosting. A disclaimer at the bottom read: “Not actual size.”

In my IKEA induced delirium, I giggled at the image of a customer ordering a one ton bun. However, some legal eagle must have felt a need for the proviso in our litigious society.

Perhaps the Large Church also needs a sign disclosing: “Not actual size.” With the exception of a single-cell, family chapel, every church contains multiple congregations. Natural divisions occur along worship services along with small group options and mission opportunities.

People misunderstand the concept of unity in church life. Christians disagree about traditional versus contemporary worship, Sunday School versus small groups, and local versus foreign missions.  Disciples debate theology, doctrine, polity, and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

What unites the church, however, is so much greater than any worldly distinction that might divide us. Paul reminded the New Testament church that Christians share in one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

The Large Church: Not Actual Size.

The body of Christ is actually MUCH larger, comprising the saints of God throughout space and time.

IKEA and the Large Church, Part 3: Be the One

Last month I experienced IKEA for the first time. For those who have never visited the Swedish home store, words fail me. However, my counselor says I’m slowly recovering from the traumatic event . . . traumatic event . . . traumatic event.

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon along with half of the metro-Atlanta population. Imagine funneling into the Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the Falcons home opener—only more so. Sniveling children and whining husbands reluctantly trailed scolding mothers and weary wives.

IKEA 2The IKEA employees wore canary yellow shirts which should have made them easy to spot. However, they disappeared chameleon-like into the background, reappearing at the high dollar design centers and crowded checkout counters.

After losing my wife to the mob, I asked a harried worker for directions to the Fabrics Department. He gestured vaguely and said, “Follow the signs around the perimeter of the store, or you can take a shortcut through the unmarked door in Seasonals.”

Then he dashed away like Alice in Wonderland’s White Rabbit, muttering: “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date!”

By the time we reached the checkout counters, I had lost the remnants of both sanity and religion. My right eye twitched uncontrollably as I contemplated a mad dash towards the exit. An eternity later we finally reached the front of the line.

The young cashier greeted us with a dazzling smile and asked about our IKEA experience. I babbled an unintelligible response, and she seemed to understand. Then she engaged in a winsome conversation with my wife, including a charming story about her father who had immigrated to the United States.

She finished the transaction with another genuine smile, adding: “Come back soon.” I found myself nodding agreeably even as the cashier warmly greeted the next customer.

If the Large Church is like IKEA, then it’s the members’ responsibility to welcome first time guests. When a visitor says, “This sure is a friendly church,” does it mean that several hundred people overwhelmed the person with a flash-mob-welcome? No, it means that a few people greeted the newcomer as an honored guest.

Radical hospitality begins with each individual believer. One person can make an eternal difference.

Be the one.

IKEA and the Large Church, Part 2: A-maze-ing Grace

I recently made my first—and by heaven’s mercy, LAST—visit to IKEA. The home goods superstore overwhelmed the senses and dulled the soul. Reflecting on the experience, it struck me that the massive retailer and the large church share some characteristics in common.

IKEA mapIKEA customers park in a Stygian subbasement before a marathon trek to the entrance. The sprawling store occupies two immense floors that stretch beyond the horizon in all directions. Signage directs customers down zigzag corridors like mice through a maze. A bewildering array of home goods beckons on every side.

I reached the nadir of my retail experience after passing the same display for the third time in ten minutes. Legendary pioneer, Daniel Boone, once said: “I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.” My mental condition went way past confused—I was baffled, befuddled, perplexed, and perturbed!

Many church facilities rival IKEA’s bewildering floor plan. Additions added over decades create a labyrinth of twists and turns with multiple levels and nonsensical or nonexistent signs. First time visitors aimlessly wander the hallways like lost children.

Long-time church members may not recognize the problem. Everyone KNOWS that the third hallway on the left leads to a half staircase that ascends to the anteroom that funnels into another stairwell that descends two floors to the baby nursery—which is two levels away from the children’s department and sanctuary.

One pastoral colleague served a congregation that didn’t even have an exterior sign identifying the church. When asked, the Trustees responded incredulously: “Preacher, why would we need a sign? We all KNOW where the church is!”

Superior signs cost a lot of money; however, inadequate signage costs even more. Best practices from hospitals, airports, and hotels teach the church:

  • Invest in excellent exterior and interior signs—it’s a necessity and not a luxury
  • Signs should create “waypoints” that easily lead first-time guests step-by-step to their destination
  • Crowded hallways obscure wall and door signage—place signs above head-level
  • Avoid ecclesiastical code words like sacristy, chancel, narthex, and nave
  • If people appear lost, do NOT give directions; instead lead them to where they want to go

The church can be a maze. The church can also be a place where people experience God’s Amazing Grace.

Church, here’s your sign!

IKEA and the Large Church, Part 1: To Hell and Back

My wife and I recently visited IKEA for the first time. A team of counselors continues to treat my post-traumatic stress syndrome. We emerged an eternity later with a cart full of throw pillows. I would have gladly paid a premium to avoid the bargain.

IKEAIn Swedish, IKEA roughly translates as “Eternal Torment.” An occasional whiff of brimstone underlies the deli’s meatballs. Dante did not list the retailer in his nine circles of hell, but Hades’ entrance can be viewed from there.

The lurid blue and yellow store squats on 16th Street in Atlanta. The massive building purportedly occupies two floors, but it feels much larger. Like Hogwarts, moving staircases constantly rearrange themselves while false-backed wardrobes lead to Narnia. After inadvertently losing my wife, we finally reunited a continent and time zone later.

A full service restaurant provides provisions for lost souls. One child slept soundly under a down comforter in a bedroom display. Other weary souls sprawled on Swedish torture devices marketed as furniture.

It would be hyperbole to compare my afternoon’s trek through IKEA to Israel’s forty years in the wilderness. However, I found myself muttering “I want to go back to Egypt!”

Reflecting on the experience, the retailer and the church share some common attributes. So I’m writing a series of blogs entitled IKEA and the Large Church which will compare and contrast the two institutions.

Next week’s blog is entitled A-maze-ing Grace.