If you were to ask most pastors and even most churches if they want to connect with unchurched people and have them attend their churches, they would say, "Yes, absolutely." But then, they turn right around and create their weekend services assuming that everyone in the congregation is, if not already a believer, at least on the same page with them.
One person recently explained it to me this way, "We are called to be different, so when people come they should see we're different! We don't need to accommodate ourselves to them."
Sadly, that type of thinking is prevalent in our churches. It is exactly that type of thinking that has created the great disconnect not only between what we say we want to do in the church and then what we actually do, but also the disconnect we in the church have with the majority of people who are not in our churches.
Let me ask you a question. Those of you who are married (my wife and I will celebrate 39 years of marriage today), if, while you were dating, your mate had said to you, "I really like you, I want to spend time with you, get to know you, but only if you do and see everything my way," how do you think that relationship would have worked out? Would things be different?
What if you did that to your intended? Maybe not express it in those words, but simply insisted that every date be based on what you liked to do, and you never gave any real consideration for what your future spouse wanted to do? By the way, there is a term for such behavior -- "single."
Unfortunately, behavior we recognize as destructive to individual relationships often is not only accepted but promoted in our churches. Sure, we want people in the community who don't want to attend church to attend, as long as they understand they must do it on our terms, and we often justify our position claiming, "God calls us to be different."
God does call us to be different -- you will get no argument from me on that -- but it is a difference of character not a difference of function. If you want to apply difference to function, that is, outward appearance, we had better take a page from the holiness group and go back to making sure our dress is even different. Yeah, didn't think you wanted to go there.
How are we to be different? We are to love the unlovable, help the ungrateful, serve without worry of being taken advantage of, and show mercy to people who don't deserve mercy (check it out for yourself in Luke 6:27-36). In short, we are to demonstrate the same type of unselfish love that Jesus modeled (See John 13:34-35).
But that's really tough, so what do we do? We settle for difference in form but not always function. This focus on form is seen each week when we gather together and insist that our particular, accepted style is necessary to express how different (odd) we are.
What do you think would happen if we started with real difference in character and then developed a style of worship that met people where they were instead of insisting that they come where we are?
You really don't have to imagine it -- the North Point Community Church affiliates have demonstrated it. All you have to do is look at the numbers they are attracting because they are willing to meet people where they are so that ultimately they can bring them to where they need to be.
Now, you can argue all you want about how they are a "compromised" church, appealing to marketing techniques, etc., but I have to ask you, how is the same old same old working? Our churches are getting older, and most churches, who think themselves faithful, are under 100 in attendance.
Do you really think that is what Jesus had in mind when he said, "The person who trusts me will not only do what I'm doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I've been doing. You can count on it" (John 14:12, The Message).
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org