What Are Your Uncle Larrys?

Every family has at least one Uncle Larry.

You know what I’m talking about: the dotty aunt, the muttering uncle, the quirky grandmother, the wild-child cousin. It’s the person — or maybe the tradition or the ugly heirloom — that everyone chooses to overlook or put up with because they’re part of the family.

Churches have them, too. The more familiar we become with a place and the more comfortable we grow with each other, the more we accept, overlook, or just plain ignore our Uncle Larrys:

  • The grouchy founding member who complains about something every Sunday.

  • The annual holiday event that has long outlived its usefulness.

  • The dedicated but not quite qualified volunteer.

  • The component of your Sunday service that makes people hope that no guests came that morning.

  • The torn carpet, the stained ceilings, and the 1980 mauve-and-country-blue motif.

  • The inefficient decades-old process.

You can identify an Uncle Larry when no one has a solid answer for the question of why it exists or hasn’t been addressed. “That’s just Uncle Larry,” they may shrug.

But while we accept our Uncle Larrys, we need to realize that they can be a turn-off to those who are not familiar with our family. The eccentric elderly man who has always loved children and goes up to strangers to play with their babies? To you, that’s sweet old Grandpa. To a newcomer, that’s creepy.

It usually takes an outside perspective to identify an Uncle Larry. Think through your facilities, your programs, your personnel from a visitor’s viewpoint. Better yet, ask a visitor what stood out to them and what raised questions.

Once you’ve identified an Uncle Larry, there are two healthy options: either be sure to explain its existence, or do something about it. The best choice will depend on the nature of the Uncle Larry. But be assured that even though you may no longer notice your Uncle Larry, other people certainly do.

For Your Consideration

  • Who are the Uncle Larrys in your family?

  • What are the Uncle Larrys in your church? If you don’t know, how will you find out?

Angie Ward