Around 7 years ago this weekend, I visited Hot Springs, AR, for the first time, in order to visit with Oaklawn Church of God about the possibility of moving my family here and accept the position of Lead Pastor. I easily remember this time every year, because it was the weekend of a big "Bike (motorcycle) Rally" in Hot Springs. A gentleman named Pete, who I now consider a great friend, drove me around the town and the area. And I remember thinking the whole time, "Wow... motorcycles sure are popular around here! Everyone in this town must have a motorcycle!"
Having no idea that it was Bike Rally weekend, my first impression of the town was a little off. People come from all over the country for this weekend. At first glance, I didn't get the whole story.
The old saying goes, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."
That's too bad. First impressions seldom give a good clear picture, and it certainly doesn't give me the full narrative. Good or bad, first impressions are often misleading.
"Make a good first impression" is probably good advice, though. Actually, I try to remind our team at the church of this on a regular basis.
However, what a "good" first impression is can often be subjective.
Two examples from a few years ago.
Over the years, one of the things Oaklawn Church of God has been known for is being "that church that has the gospel music concerts." On one particular occasion, I met a gentleman on the night that a somewhat well-known group was performing. He told me how much he loved our church and was looking for a new church home... and he loves to sing and play his guitar... and he had a CD of his music that I would really enjoy... and he wanted to play for us on a Sunday morning. I told him that he was definitely welcome to come visit on Sunday and worship with us, but what was going on at the gospel music show was nothing like what happens on Sunday. He came that Sunday, handed me his CD on the way in.... and gave me a disheartened look on the way out. He never returned, and he never entered into the story of what God is doing here.
Another time, I was at a local coffee shop with a couple of folks from the church. While there, we ran into a lady in her mid-20s, who was a friend of one the folks I was sitting with. The conversation went straight to church, as that's what we were already discussing. The lady seemed excited that her friend, who has tattoos, was involved in the music, and when I was introduced as "the Pastor," she said, "Oh, I'll be there! A church that would have a pastor like you is my kind of church!" (It's the hair.) She came that Sunday. A few days later, I asked her friend about her, and was told, "Oh, she liked the music and loved your sermon, but as soon as she saw pews and lots of white-hair, she decided we weren't for her." She never returned, and she never entered into the story of what God is doing here.
So, seek to make a good first impression, yes... but don't get locked into them yourself. Whether its a city you may move to, a church you may attend, or someone new you meet... or whatever - take sufficient time to enter into the story. A first impression, whether good or bad, is seldom a clear vision of the whole picture.