It has been estimated that somewhere around 95% of Western churches primarily operate on the principle of “come inside and see what were doing.” Other ways of describing this might include “come in here” or “let’s put on a fantastic and entertaining service so that people want to come back again.”
This “attractional model” of church requires unbelievers to enter into a strange place like a church building to come in here the good news. It requires them to do something that’s not normal for them; something that requires them, on the front end, to do something out of their comfort zone. Even the most seeker sensitive places with the most modern and “cool” styles of worship, coming into this place is something out of the ordinary and requires initiative on their part to make it happen.
But the Scripture is clear that God began to work out his plan to save the world it was not result of human initiative but rather from a singular initiative of God himself came to us, to where we were, to carry out and get this new message people. We call this the incarnation. This is what we celebrate Christmas.
An attractional church model, I believe, is of little effectiveness in post-Christendom. Attempts to “get people in the doors” are increasingly accompanied by the rolling of eyes, even if just metaphorically, and a gradual turning out of those invitations and attempts to bring people into the church building. What we really need is something called an incarnational church; that is a church that “disassembles itself and seeps into the cracks and crevices of the society” (Smith & Pattison) in order to not bring people into a church building but to become the Church in any given time or place; a church that does not seek to plant new people within its fold but rather to implant itself in the soil of the community where people live.
Can this happen? It is happening in places all around the world. You might not see it, but it’s there. You might not read about it, but it’s happening. But it’s not happening enough.
As and individual, as a family and as the body of Christ in your particular time, place, culture, language and location.
The people of God are at the heart of God’s mission for reconciling creation. In the Western world where individualism reigns supreme, there is unfamiliarity, awkwardness and even slowness in our calling to live as a community of God’s people. We are so accustomed to living and acting as autonomous individuals that the idea of being God’s people in the world can be tough to wrap our heads around. Being God’s people is messy at best. We are broken human beings with fears, prejudices, addictions and habits that are harmful to ourselves and others. It can seem more practical and convenient (and even considerate!) to keep to ourselves and minimize the risk that we’ll get entangled in the lives of others.
~Slow Church, Smith & Pattison
In our most recent newsletter I wrote a short article entitled “We Didn’t Go To Church.” In the article I told the story about a Sunday morning when we didn’t join the gathering of the church where we normally attend, but rather went to a non-Christian religious service being hosted by our neighbors across the street. When I tell these stories I have several goals in mind, including:
- Give the reader a little taste of the culture and people among whom we live;
- Give the reader a glimpse into the hows and whys of some of the things we do;
- Challenge the reader to look and think about things from a different perspective;
- Encourage the reader to think about the way they think about and approach the situations and people in their world;
- Hope that reader will respond with questions, ideas, stories of their own experiences, etc.
So, yes, we didn’t attend the gathering of our local church community on this given Sunday. This isn’t as shocking to some people as it used to be as there are some stateside churches that now have a once-a-year “Service Sunday” or something of the sort. Yet, I think it is worthwhile for me to take a moment and share a few more thoughts related to this story, the potentially confusing concept of skipping a church gathering as a form of worship, and how this all relates to our identity and purpose as the church, the body of Christ.
- Gatherings of the church are important…REALLY important. Gathering with fellow sojourners regularly and frequently is essential to Christian growth, discipleship, accountability, and worship. I am neither condoning nor supporting any form of I-love-Jesus-but-don’t-need-to-go-to-church expressions of faith. Neither am I suggesting that skipping church gatherings is okay for any and all reasons–even for good stuff like family togetherness and such. No, being in community is VERY IMPORTANT.
- If the church gathers only on Sundays, there is already a problem. Earlier in the week I had coffee with one of my BIC’s (brother-in-Christ) took another grocery shopping following his ACL surgery, spent time chatting with several couples who are part of our church gathering at our kids soccer games, played basketball with many of my co-laborers on Wednesday night, and chatted, texted, and talked on the phone with several most throughout the week. Living in community with our brothers and sisters in Christ cannot happen only on Sundays, only in large group worship, and only in formal settings. In fact, many of the most important times of community happen Monday through Saturday, at all times of the day, in private conversations or groups of just 2 or 3, and informally at times when people relaxed, comfortable, and willing to be vulnerable.
- When we got home following this event, reeking of cigarette smoke, we spent time as a family praying and reading Scripture together. Remember, Christ is dwells in the midst of 3 or 4 gathered in a home in his name and worshipping simply just as he does when 300 or 400 are gathered together in church building “worshipping” with all the bells and whistles.
- We didn’t attend this event just to be able to say we went, but rather with a very intentional desire to pray for, and be a blessing to, these neighbors of ours. Yes, the smoke was distracting, as were the distorted speakers. The “preacher” was so charismatic I found myself laughing even when I had no idea what he was talking about (this, my friends, is half the battle of cross-cultural adaptation–just know when to laugh and keep nodding your head. Of course, this can backfire when you suddenly realize you have volunteered yourself to come up and preach or teach or give a testimony). Through it all though, we prayed and we smiled. We talked with people, prayed for people silently, and tried as best we could to show the kind of kindness and openness we are sure Jesus displayed when he ate at the homes of tax-collectors, sinners, and the sick.
- It’s easy to tell a good story, but rest assured, we don’t always do all of these things well. Some days we are just plain tired…a little too grumpy…and not the best examples of the ideal to which we aspire on our best of days. We keep learning and growing every day. We can’t do it alone and neither can you. We all need each other. It’s taken me some years to learn this, but I’m finally catching on. This why community and fellowship are so important. Occasionally we choose to miss a Sunday morning gathering in order to worship and serve in other ways, but even in doing this, we realize how much we need the encouragement and companionship ship of our fellow sojourners.