A couple days ago, I posted "A Church for People Who Don't Like Church" about a local church who boasted such a thing on their huge sign. Many of you posted some excellent responses to the question of what makes people not like church.
Today, I'd like to discuss the three lacks I see as being deal-breakers for most people, Christian or not. Sure, more lacks exist than these three, but I think any church that overcomes these will be 90 percent on target.
3. The church accentuates the inconsequential while downplaying the essential.
I was once a part of a church that deemed repaving the parking lot more important than world missions. True, if a church's parking lot resembles the Grand Canyon, visitors might be a little turned off, but it's the priorities of the heart that come through. Even unperceptive people can tell when something big's out of whack. And though we occasionally give unbelievers no credit for discerning the deeper waters of your Christian heart or mine, folks are less stupid than we believe.
If we gush over our church's beautiful sanctuary, but ignore visitors, we choose the inconsequential over the essential. If an elder goes on and on about how important tithing is, while the discipleship program at the church is non-existent, then we've got our priorities screwed up.
I don't know about you, but I suspect that most people who walk into a church have their senses on full alert. They're scanning and evaluating every single second of their time in a church. To make matters worse, our inherent American skepticism only enhances the full bore analysis of everything a church does. Visitors, Christian or not, can see through the veneer we've been cluelessly polishing for years.
Some people get overwrought about those churches that play up the kind of coffee they serve out in the lobby. If a church wants to whisper something positive about the quality of their coffee that's fine so long as they shout the Gospel from the rooftops. Sometimes it seems—at least to me—that the gushing over the free-trade, rainforest-preserving coffee is given greater honor than Jesus Christ.
An obvious example, perhaps. But what inconsequential things do our churches trumpet while they totally ignore the essential heart of Jesus?
Personally, I think every aspect of what a church is and does should be held up to scrutiny. Accentuate what is permanent and lasting and downplay everything else. Don't keep stumbling around in the old status quo. If our churches aren't making a difference in the lives of their congregants or are failing to impact the community around them, then a real gut check is needed.
Put it all on the table and shine the light of Christ in it. The gold will always clarify if we do so. Then let's put it on display.
2. The church's people are cold, self-absorbed, or immature.
I don't care how impenetrable or crusty a person might be, she'll warm to people who are loving and genuine. But more than one impenetrable or crusty person has turned his back on the Church, never to return, because he encountered disagreeable Christians.
Listen, we're the aroma of Christ. Put a fresh-from-the-oven cherry pie out on the table or fire up a carafe of hazelnut-infused coffee and watch how that luscious aroma sets mouths a-watering. How much more will people who are saturated with the perfume of Jesus attract others! But if we're a people of hope and joy, why is it that so many people are turned off by Christians? Is it because we're sending the opposite message? Do we smell bad?
While some people flow in the gift of hospitality, others can learn it. Seriously, you can teach people to be more friendly and caring. We can be more considerate. Having a little consideration head our direction couldn't hurt, either. Contrary to popular belief, you can't kill someone with kindness. In fact, I would guess that most people are dying for a little love to come their way.
I've lost track of how many times I've walked into a church and feigned ignorance of all things "Christian" in order to get a visitor's-eye-view of what interactions come my way. Nothing hurts more than to walk into the most widely known church in this country and walk out an hour later without a single human being saying anything to me. Not one word.
Who we are as genuine, caring people makes an impact. If the Church of Jesus Christ can't out-love a sewing circle, softball team, or motorcycle club, then perhaps we should stop asking why people are choosing to spend their time elsewhere.
1. The church lacks the transcendence of the Father, the fullness of the person of the Son, and the immanence of the Holy Spirit.
My wife and I discussed this concept of "A Church for People Who Don't Like Church" and came to the same conclusion that nothing—absolutely not one thing—can substitute for people encountering the Godhead in our meetings. Why would anyone darken the doorway of a church that has never seen the Holy Spirit dwell there in power?
Being a charismatic disqualifies me in the eyes of some people from being able to speak about the brooding of the Spirit in our church meetings. They automatically assume I'm some tongue-speaking nutjob jumping pews with a cobra in one hand and a cottonmouth in the other. But I've been in meetings—too few if you ask me—where the Spirit was so thick in the room it was like swimming through oil. For all our talk of being a New Testament Church, I can't read the Scriptures and see any other kind of church than the one where God shows up and shakes everyone. Folks, that should be a normative experience for us! Too many of our churches resemble the Sahara instead of India at the height of the monsoon season. We've satisfied ourselves with a drizzle when the floodgates of heaven are poised to rain down on us!
People are dying to know Jesus as a real person. Our churches in this country are doing a massive disservice to each person who steps inside their building if they fail to present Jesus in His fullness. Yet how often do we shy away from this aspect of the Lord or that so as not to offend people with the truth of who Jesus was and is?
The cross may offend, but we're not getting enough people to that point because we've not made enough of the attractive person of Christ. Of course people don't want to die at the foot of the cross if we've never given them a reason to be so in love with Jesus that taking up the cross becomes a small burden to bear. Every man, woman, and child on this planet is dying for Jesus. I'm convinced that even the most heinous person to walk this sod has some hunger for the reality of Christ in his or her life. Our problem is that we've not preached Christ enough to meet that need. We can't be shrinking back from the truth about this Person we claim we love enough to die for.
Nor can we preach a small God who only exists to satisfy our relentless cry for self-aggrandizement. The folly of most megachurches consists of tossing out the Father's transcendence and otherness in favor of the celestial grandfather monstrosity so many are selling. The Orthodox churches understand this; I suppose that's one of the reasons that so many megachurch burnouts find Orthodoxy attractive. What else explains the rapid growth of Orthodox Churches in the last five years? If God is not transcendent, then we're worshiping the wrong God. I suspect that many people are, having been sold on easy believism and "God, our buddy" shenanigans.
Let's face it, we'd be packing our churches if we approached this correctly. As Leonard Ravenhill was fond of saying, "You never have to advertise a fire." Show me a church that upholds the transcendence of the Father, the fullness of the person of Jesus Christ, and is so filled with the immanent presence of the Holy Spirit that people can hardly walk into the sanctuary, and I'll show you a church people will be dying to get into. Even if they ultimately reject what they've experienced, they'll never be able to say they failed to encounter God in a Christian church.
Those are my three.
If these have struck a chord with you, leave a comment and tell me what you think. Better yet, leave a comment and let me know how you can employ these three in your own church.
Have a great weekend.