Saturday, August 13, 2005

Relevant Church

Can i ask one thing? what happened? why is it so hard to get people to come to church? okay. it's no mystery that the church has become an icon for the much less popular alternative to the uneventful sunday morning. is it the appearance? the people? the general aura? tradition?

often a prominent feature to any "church" building has to be that enormous steeple. i mean come on. ask someone to draw a picture of a church and that will be the 'cherry' on top. complete with stain glass windows depicting somewhat significant events in the bible, a pipe organ that has probably won some awards or is the town "thing"... (you know, every town has a thing whether it's the largest bowl of cereal, a giant moose, a largemouth bass, a hotel, a spoon...why not an organ?) hard wooden pews for less than comfortable seating, keenly designed to keep you awake during the service. did i forget anything? a large cross behind the pulpit, maybe some banners hanging on all the walls hand crafted by some of the elderly ladies of the church. i seem to have created a typical traditional church building, havent i? could be somewhat frightening to a...7 year old. okay, it doesn't look like a killer venue for a keg-party either. and if it did i'm sure some people would be offended by such a thought. after all, this is the house of God correct?

maybe you're disappointed that i haven't said that the church IS the people. well i've said it now haven't i? anyways, picture this: you walk into church for the first time on sunday morning. someone you've never seen before immediately grabs your hand, gives it a firm shake, stuffs an event calendar into it, and tells you where the coffee is. that's friendly, right? right? i mean, you've been in church for 5 seconds and you've already made a new friend. okay. so you find the coffee without any trouble, add some creme, and reach for the sugar. then you notice the pair of hands tightly gripping the sugar bowl, hands that are attached to a small boy wearing a coffee-stained tie. soon enough another stranger claiming to be the boy's mother reaches in front of you while in mid-conversation with someone else to find her little prodical. so you walk into the sanctuary looking for a welcoming hardwood pew to seat yoursef. you find one amongst the quickly filling benches, next to someone else you haven't met. soon enough someone follows you but hesitates before sitting on top of you, because you apparently found their regular spot. then you spend the next hour figuring out the hymns everybody else knows by listening to the person beside you, who happens to be off key. then you are formally greeted by the pastor who then lists off the events for the upcoming week, tells you who you should pray for, then delivers a repentance sermon which makes you feel guilty for not wearing your other pants that morning. okay... so that was a little harsh. perhaps too harsh. you may be thinking your church is nothing like that in the least. and you're probably right. that story actually sounds a bit crazy.

so you're probably now thinking about potential fixes to any "problem" i've mentioned above, like maybe moving tea and coffee time to after the service instead of before... or providing pillows for the seats or a more enthusiastic speaker... okay let's get real.. maybe powerpoint presentations? better music? okay, okay. can i be blunt? it won't work. honestly. you can 'entertain' a congregation as much as you want, but the truth is, they're looking for something real.

so far i have done nothing for you but present a problem, haven't i. and i must confess, i have only learned recently that it is easier to criticize a church than to run a church. and i have done only that.

suddenly i'm not sure what to write. my thoughts are scattered, and all i know is that there is some more truth that i can give you.

currently i am reading a book entitled "the relevant church". all it is is a collection of essays written by pastors, mainly in their twentysomethings. they are pastors of newly started churches. what's neat is that their churches have sunday services in pubs, theatres, old nightclubs, coffeeshops, you name it. and the stories are fascinating. but i do not want to emphasize where these services are taking place. i do not want to suggest that starting up some kind of underground movement is the only solution to this problem. the thing that stands out about the people in these churches is where their hearts are.

i read one story about some people who met a homeless man in a park. they invited him out to church, and called him "homeless ken". now they call him "ken-ya!" because he found Jesus, got an apartment, has a new job, and is going to kenya on a mission trip with their church. that spoke volumes to me, because this church did more than invite that man out to church. they helped him turn his life around. there are many other stories like that in this book. sorry if i sound like a sales pitch on this "relevant church" book i'm reading...but you can find it at any christian book store i'm sure. even check out if you'd like. it's a company that's main focus is their monthly magazine which i also buy monthly. the website itself is pretty cool--lots of good articles and spaces for you to respond to their articles or ask questions. very neat.

so i guess my solution is, we can't bring our lost friends out to church. we need to bring the church to them. take a look at Jesus' life. he hung out with thieves, prostitutes, lepers... people nobody wants to be associated with. he didn't tell them to get their butt in church, he healed them, and simply said, follow me.