Sometimes you just can’t win.

After a year of talking about what it takes to be a welcoming church, this image suggests one step forward and two steps back.

To be honest, this congregation set their own table … I didn’t make any recommendations about their Sunday morning refreshment selection, and as you can see it includes the kinds of foods that ought to make everyone happy. Plus they provide great Free Trade coffee … always a bonus.

But then there’s that sign.

In the January 2012 issue, Net Results magazine published the results of a study about food and drinks in the sanctuary. The vast majority of churches that averaged over 500 in worship also invited their members and guests to carry their beverages and snacks into the worship center. And a lower majority of churches under 500 in worship invited the same. But since 85% of all churches in the US are either plateaued or facing decline, one might think we’d all be taking Paul’s “whatever it takes” core value for reaching those outside the Kingdom more seriously (see 1 Cor 9:19-22).

The sad thing is, when I interviewed church members of this congregation, several confided they would “sneak” bottled water into the sanctuary so they could quell a cough or deal with dry mouth.

Once upon a time, let’s say a decade or so ago, if you visited the mall there were signs in most of the clothing and department stores reminding you that “No Food or Drinks!” were allowed in the shops. Visit the malls today and only rarely will you see such a placard. Why? Merchants decided that increasing the number of potential customers was more important (and more profitable) than having to deal with an occasional spill.

Carpets clean. So do pew pads. But even if they don’t, does the risk of a stain outweigh the risk that a guest’s first impression of your church will be that it’s not even as hospitable as Walmart?