As the years march on, more and more people will find themselves outside church walls. How will the church respond?
If you’re a chart/statistics person, start by reading this. It’s a review of George Barna’s upcoming book by Andrew Jones, a leading voice in the emerging church movement. If you’re more of a story/real life person, skip the link and move to the next paragraph.
Tonight, I talked with a friend about her neighbors. They’re a lesbian couple with a small child, and they can’t find a preschool for her. Most of the preschools in the town we live in are church sponsored. One conversation went like this, as they showed up to tour the church-run preschool:
“So, would our daughter be welcome here, given who we are?”
“Well…I think…let’s see…” the woman at the preschool responded. “Well, yes, I suppose so. We let children of drug addicts come.”
Now, the sad thing is, I can totally understand the woman’s train of thought. I’m sure she has a loving heart, and really wanted to love these two women and their daughter like Jesus loved people. But do you suppose being associated with a drug addict would make the women feel welcomed and accepted? You get three guesses, and the first two don’t count.
My friend went on to say, “Here’s the thing, both of these women are really seeking God. They want change in their life, they’re even looking for a church. But where can I invite them? If I invite them to church, I’d be afraid they’d introduce themselves to someone as partners, and someone would say, ‘Yeah, right.’ Where will they be welcome?”
Another connection today was an e-mail from a leader in our Yearly Meeting who lives in Southern Oregon. For years, he’s intentionally built relationships with all kinds of people, praying and looking for ways to share what he’s experienced with Jesus. Here’s what he said:
“In my small world I have for years had between 200 and 300 ”not yet Christian“ friends. I have to confess that it is almost impossible for me to get them inside the walls of any church. In recent years I have noticed an alarming number of out-churched (or ”post-congregational“) Christians who have given up attending church anywhere. I think most of these two groups of friends would consider being part of a small group outside the confines of a traditional church. Sad isn’t it!”
And what about the college student I met last year, who had been sexually abused by members (plural!) of her parents’ church? Or the brilliant thirty something agnostic in academia, who associates “Christianity” with rabid tv preachers who simply say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it! Don’t question, just believe!” Or the woman who works in the mini-mart at a gas station near my house who can’t even look people in the eye or do much more than mumble incomplete sentences, who looks so scared, so alone?
Who will hear God’s call to create a community of people with room and welcome for some of these who simply won’t fit, won’t be welcome, won’t care to come to a church? My church community is, by outward appearances, one of the most traditional and established churches you’ll find. But we also have people who know Jesus intimately, and who really don’t want to be locked in some “Christian Ghetto”. It gives me hope that we might equip and send some of these great people off on all kinds of little adventures, casting little “safety nets” of community into the world around us. It’s a huge, scary, uprooting, stretching, and monumental task. And I hope we’re up to it!