Familiarity blindness is a malady that infects us all. It happens when we become so familiar with something that we no longer consciously see it.
In fact, the brain does this all the time so it doesn’t have to work as hard. If you drive to church or work the same route each time, you no longer pay attention to familiar buildings, signs and other landmarks along the way. Although our eyes still see them, they’ve become so familiar that the brain doesn’t pay conscious attention to them.
However, when something is out of place on your drive, i.e., a detour, you immediately pay attention.
The same process happens in ministry.
We get accustomed to doing things a certain way, become so familiar with our surroundings, or slip into a ministry rut, and we become oblivious to their staleness or their need for change. It happens in marriage as well. We can become so familiar with our spouses that we can take then for granted and not treat them as kindly as we once did.
Jesus described this phenomenon in his response to people who knew Mary and Joseph and couldn’t believe that He was a carpenter’s son. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” (Luke 4.24, NIV) Those from His hometown had become so familiar with Him that they missed seeing Him as the Messiah.
So, since this problem easily carries into our ministries, how can we cure it? Consider these ideas.
1. Invite someone with fresh eyes to visit your church service.
Perhaps a fellow pastor, a consultant or a neighbor. Afterward, ask them to give you honest feedback about their experience, both good and bad.
2. Evaluate the order in which you present the various parts of your worship service.
Do you do the same thing in the same order each week? Could someone who has gone to your church for a while tell you the order without even thinking? If so, you may want to consider changing up the order. Surprise and novelty help people pay better attention.
3. Go and visit another church.
What do you experience that feels disconcerting, unclear or unnecessary? Do you see similar barriers in your own church? Go back to your church with the same evaluative eyes and make necessary changes.