They’re Not Coming. Really. They’re not.
I grew up in the Episcopal Church. Confirmation classes. Stained glass. Kneelers. Pot-luck lunches EVERY Sunday. Communion EVERY Sunday down front from a common cup. Hymns played on an organ. Responding to all the priests phrases. The whole bit.
Oh, and something else: I grew up in the Episcopal Church in Alabama.
That 2nd part is important, so a little latitude, your honor, please?
After the death of my dad when I was 13, church-going became one of my family’s lowest priorities. My mom had to go back to school and got a full-time job teaching to support us…and it became difficult for her to make the half-hour drive to our Episcopal church, stick around until 2PM Sunday (the pot-luck lunch isn’t going to eat or clean up after itself, now is it?) with weekly fatigue and throw in a little grad-school homework on Sunday afternoon and sleeping in quickly became a habit.
Throw in a little angsty 13-year-old with an inward seething anger about “God’s plan” and “dad being in a better place,” and, well, let’s just say the surviving McKinney’s drifted a bit when it came to church attendance.
But I didn’t realize until I came back to church about 3 years later that so much of what I thought was normal was, in the words of the E-Trade Baby, “frowned upon in this establishment.” It helps if you throw your head back and say that to the ceiling, complete with the pause between “upon” and “in.”
Anyway, we Episcopals had been hauling off and having a lot of fun amidst our spiritual conversations. For example, we had a dance at our all-Episcopal summer camp (Wonderful, wonderful, CAMP McDOWELL, beeyutiful queen of Clear Creek, clap clap) in the gym almost every night. Our counselors asked us if we’d kissed a girl behind chapel with a genuine hopeful curiosity because 11-year-old guys looking for that first kiss viewed that as a distinct possibility. Our priest came up to visit and had a beer with the camp leader in plain view of everybody. We played all sorts of Eagles and Steve Miller and some song about Black Betty bam-a-lam during the air guitar talent-show. We didn’t give life a second thought.
I came back into Evangelical circles when I was 16.
The local SBC didn’t have a dance scheduled at any point during the lock-in. Which lock-in? Any lock-in. If you had any affections at all for the feminine of the species, you were “discipled” to stare at her eyes and look at her brain. Kissing, apparently, was the gateway to pregnancy. You might not want to hold hands with her as a preventative measure as well.
Beer? Forget about it.
And, for a kid who loved music, well, let’s just say Keith Green couldn’t hold a candle to AC/DC (and don’t even get me started on the Ramones or the Clash). I’d never had one of those “want to get away moments”until I asked my youth group if they’d heard the great new Ozzy Osbourne album and that really cool solo during “Crazy Train.” This was followed by my youth pastor’s diatribe on how Chicago’s own Resurrection Band was better than Ozzy or AC/DC. He gave me a cassette for my car. After 30 seconds of listening, I concluded that even Bob didn’t believe the speech he just gave…but he was required by parents to give it.
See, growing up in the Bible Belt had some very strange cultural no-no’s.
Which, oh by the way, didn’t seem to have much basis in Scripture. I was a kid reading my Bible for the first time and coming to small groups to discuss it for the first time and I was really trying to grow in my relationship with Christ and I wasn’t scared to ask questions.
Like, “where is that in the Bible?” The Bible-church raised kids in my group couldn’t believe the mores were being questioned. I, on the other hand, just wanted to know. Because I was serious, man. If Jesus didn’t want me to kiss my girlfriend, then I wouldn’t kiss my girlfriend. Or at least I’d keep kissing her but tell my friends we were “trying to honor God so we stopped kissing.” Thankfully, all my group leader came up with was verses about “wisdom” so I wisely kept kissing her. Apparently, there was no “Thou shalt not kiss” verse afoot.
That’s when I first started to dislike Christians.
And, it turns out, most of my negative experiences with Church have come from legalism or some variant of it. When Christians speak boldly and with some level of God-authority about something that Scripture doesn’t. And they did that a lot.
But most everyone who has ever been to church leaves because of SOME REASON. Legalism was mine. But everyone has their reasons–ranging from “we’re exhausted” to “my priest molested me” and everything in between.
Which is why the “Mommies and Mimosa/Soccer Sunday” crowd (see yesterday’s entry) isn’t coming to church…or even care if they ever come back. No matter how great our stuff is…
…the Church has lost their credibility among the non-Christian community.
Sure, they used to have it some 50 years ago. Everyone went to church, right? Or at least they went at Easter and Christmas and the whole bit.
Finding a church doesn’t have the priority-level it used to (and for my older readers, please don’t bother to try to disprove this. The countless hours I’ve had in discussion with people who grew up with the attractional model–see yesterday–about how if we just had this or that, young people would come back to church…well, the stats are in. You can disagree if you want, but these numbers don’t lie).
So, if the Mommies and Mimosa group isn’t ever coming to our bigger, better deal (but other Christians shuffle the deck in their own city and we call it “church growth” so we keep doing it)…
…shouldn’t we view them as an unreached people group and take the church missionally to them?
I used the phrase yesterday about a “faith community centered around Christ” for a reason.
Some more quotes from the book before I wind up:
“We so easily impose a cultural form on the people and the groups we hope to reach with the love of Jesus. We often make the gospel synonymous with a bland middle-class conformity and thereby alienate countless people from encountering Christ. How often have we seen public opinion polls that reflect the attitude of ‘Jesus YES! Church NO!'”
“Jesus moved into the neighborhood; he experienced its life, its rhythms, and its people from the inside and not as an outsider. It is sobering to think that for thirty years Jesus practiced this presence for 30 years before he actually started his ministry. Nazareth had indeed become a living part of him and defined him in so many unaccountable ways. If this was so for Jesus, then, we believe, we, too, need to practice the missinoal discipline of presence ad identification with any of the groups and people we hope to engage with. This is true whether they are local ravers or members of bohemian art cooperatives, sports clubs, common interest groups, or parent groups–we need to identify a whole lot more before we can expect to really share Jesus in a meaningful way with them.”
So, as we continue our conversation…
…let’s assume that non-Christians ARE NOT looking for a better church or service or whatever and aren’t going to come because the local church is having a concert so “bring a friend!” Or they aren’t coming because your church is going to have a series on marriage and family so “pack the pews!” They don’t. They aren’t.
…pick a group. Doesn’t matter. Starving artists. Single moms. PTA group. The local university booster club that gets together to watch games. Your literal neighbors. And, if you can’t think of people you know that don’t know Christ, maybe there’s another step you need to be thinking about.
…and how could you reach them for Christ if they never came to your church. What would you do?
That’s the question.
Because they aren’t coming to your church no matter how comfy and/or flashy. They all have their reasons, too. Just like we did, and WE’RE Christians, for crying out loud! They’re not…
So, what do you do?
And, yes, we’ll continue the discussion…