Let me tell you about the Hilltop Steak House.
The first time I went to the Hilltop Steak House I was a 20 year-old college kid spending the summer on a Christian work/study project in Medford, MA. I had never seen anything like this place, as reviewed in the NY Times in 1988:
"A 68-FOOT-HIGH neon cactus towers over the suburban prairie along Route 1 north of Boston, a commercial badlands of mini-malls, muffler shops and markdown liquor marts. This startlingly garish landmark beckons hungry passers-by to the Hilltop Steak House in Saugus, Mass., America's largest restaurant, both in number of customers served and sales volume.
On a typical Saturday, the Hilltop, a sprawling Ponderosa that accommodates 1,300 carnivores, rustles up about 7,800 meals. It serves nearly 2.4 million customers annually...
In the mid-70s the line formed at the door to the restaurant and stretched 1/10 of a mile around the side. Waiting diners were given a colored, numbered token that corresponded to the room in the restaurant you were going to be seated in. The steaks were enormous, accompanied by the largest baked potato I'd ever seen and a garden salad that could have fed a family of 4. The food was great. That was 1976. The Hilltop Steak House closed in 2013, replaced by intimate minimalist places, wine bars, and bistros.
As you read this, you're probably thinking I'm about to make some point about how churches need to be redesigned for the 2020s to suit the tastes of a changing culture. Nope. I want us to focus on those little colored, numbered tokens.
What killed The Hilltop Steak House? It wasn't bad management or bad food. It died because it was, after all, just a "meat market," and no one wants to be treated like a piece of meat. I can't say what it feels like to be part of a mega-church. I've never experienced it. I can tell you that the thing I most appreciate about being part of a small church is that I'm always noticed, always cared for, always valued in a small church. Do people always talk to me? No. But I know that I'm known here, and no one is going to give me a small, colored token and tell me what room or group I'm assigned to.
I was struck, as I wrote last Sunday's message, by how the crowd pressed in on Jesus in Luke 6. That was a meat market for sure! Jesus finally had to say, "But I say to you who hear!" And someone -- I don't know who -- stood still in the crush and listened. That's hard work. But you'll notice that the crowds didn't last forever, not at The HIlltop Steakhouse and not for Jesus. Jesus died essentially alone with no great crowd attending at the cross. Jesus challenged the people in Luke 6 to know and be known. You and I find ourselves in the queue lines of life all the time. Will you take the risk and subvert the queue line? Take the "cue" from Jesus. Stand still in the queue and listen. What is God saying to you?