All over the country Christian organizations and churches are springing up with with the goal of “churching the unchurched”. I believe that the people who are starting these groups have a very good heart and great intention to back what they’re doing, but I strongly feel like they’re actions and mindsets are completely wrong.
One of the biggest problems that I’ve noticed stems from a false perception of what, or rather who, the Church truly is. To most Americans church is simply an event they attend once or twice a week in a special building that has been set aside for worship. This is wrong, period. The Church is so much more, to quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “What you experience on Sunday mornings is not church.” We have made church into this machine that comes complete with its own hierarchy, rules, order and mission statement. This is simply wrong and not at all what the Church of Jesus Christ truly is. The Church is the body of Christ and His future bride. Church life is just that, it’s a life, a complete lifestyle that happens in the realm of community and sacrificial love. The Church receives its life from the indwelling Lord and without Him she simply could not function properly. The true Church of Jesus Christ doesn’t measure success by how big an offering was or how many said a prayer and filled out a contact card that year. The Church measures success by the experience of the Lord together, by experiencing the absolute headship of Jesus Christ together. This is the Church in a nutshell.
There are all sorts of evangelism methods that people hold to and would even take to the grave if need be. Some hand out tracts, some walk around festivals holding a large cross, some go out in groups and randomly pick people to share what Christ has done for them with. Then there are new “churches” that start up and proclaim that all are welcome, no matter your background or beliefs. They also advertise that their mission is to church the unchurched. They want to create a church for those who have been hurt by the church or have never known church life so that those individuals can feel comfortable. Again, they create something to reach people that hate exactly what it is they’re creating….that just sounds silly to me. Now, I firmly believe that God gives grace and uses a ton of different things. I also know that I don’t haven to agree with something for God to use it, but I also feel like our method and mindset for “churching the unchurched” is wrong. I believe that church should happen where life happens. I’m a firm believer in not inviting people to church but bringing the church to them (no matter what form of church practice we’re a part of). Essentially, living out an authentic Christ centered life in front of nonbelievers and befriending a nonbeliever simply because we love them and want to be part of their life, not because we want to sell something to them. I also don’t feel that it’s right to saturate someone with a flawed system, but with Christ alone.
Thanks to the reading of various authors and scholars, I think of different forms of church practice as wineskins. Recall what Jesus said concerning wineskins in Matthew 9:17:
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.
Something I notice is that when people want to make Jesus and the Church relevant (as if Jesus was never relevant on His own) they put all sorts of new ideas and add new programs that are filled with truth. They put more focus on community and culture but they don’t dare touch or change the traditional liturgy. They keep what is now the senior pastor as well as the order of service. They may change a few things here or there and make the service more appealing to a younger crowd, but essentially it’s the same. When you really look at it and examine it you can see that we’re putting new wine into old wineskins, something Jesus warned against. We’re creating new ideas that are based off of truth yet we’re implementing them into the same system that we originally came from. That same system is also the system that those we’re trying to reach despise. We need to show people Christ, not a flawed system. We need to show them Christ by doing life together with other believers and relying on the headship of Jesus Christ to live through us and to guide our lives together. We can’t keep putting God in a box, the traditional system of church is a box and we forget that God is not bound by that. To quote C.S. Lewis, “I want God, not my idea of God.”
If Christ is truly in us and flowing out of us then Jesus Himself will draw people to Himself. That’s not to say there’s no need for evangelism, but I believe evangelism is something different than what we’ve always done. I believe it’s simpler, so simple in fact that it becomes complex because we’re so use to putting so much human effort into it. We have to stop building things and inviting people to come. We need to go to the people and befriend them without an agenda. We need to stop trying to church the unchurched and start unchurching the church. Our church system that we’ve known for so long is flawed, I don’t just mean the imperfect people, I mean the system itself. Christ will build His Church, we need to be a part of that Church, that family, and make Christ Himself central rather than things about Him.
Again, please note that my wife and I have very close friends who are a part of a traditional form of church. I mean nothing negative toward any of them. I also have friends who have a goal of churching the unchurched to whom I also mean no disrespect or anything negative toward personally. I love the fact that I have brothers and sisters in Christ who believe things differently than me because what matters is Christ, we agree on Christ and His centrality and therefore we are not divided.
I would really love to see this conversation continue and grow as this is something that I believe is very relevant in our time and culture. Please don’t hesitate to add your input (respectfully of course) as I have a lot of growing to do and would love to your different thoughts and views and perhaps even more scripture to go along with all of this.