Thursday, July 26, 2007

It's Not About the Bible - Pt 1

This may get a little long, but hang with me.

About three years ago, we left the church we were attending. The leadership had decided to go down the Purpose-Driven path, and we were not comfortable with that. So the search began, looking for a new church. This was no small quest, particularly since we had been part of the previous church for more than 16 years. We hated to leave for many reasons, but felt it was a necessary move.

First, I put together a list of potential churches, avoiding churches I knew we would not even consider (i.e. Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Catholic). I included churches from denominations, as well as those that promoted themselves as "independent" or "Bible Church." I came up with a standard set of questions/criteria and began calling churches on the list. In many cases, I was greeted by a receptionist; on a couple of occasions, the Senior Pastor (for lack of a better term) answered the phone. The conversation would typically go something like this:

Me : My family and I are looking for a church home. Do you have time to answer a couple of questions?

Church Person (CP) : Oh, great! I'd love to tell you about our church. Do you have children? We have great "Children's" and "Youth" programs.

Me : Yes, we do; that's good to hear. Can you tell me a little bit about the church? What type or style of worship services do you have? How would you describe your pastor's/your preaching style? What makes you think your church would be a good church for us?

CP : Well, I've already mentioned the children/youth programs. We have some great adult Sunday School classes. Our pastor is WONDERFUL--he really preaches the Bible, but he makes it understandable/applicable. We have two worship services, one is contemporary, the other is traditional --OR-- We only have one service it's (contemporary/traditional/a blend of both, etc.

I think you get the idea.

I wasn't really surprised by the responses for the most part. Most of the churches seemed to be "cookie cutter" variety. Almost every one made it a point to tell me they had either been through The Purpose Driven Life or were preparing to do so. I crossed them off immediately. There were I couple I called that had some interesting responses. One CP told me (without prompting): "We're certainly NOT Calvinist! (I hadn't mentioned that, so it must have been something she felt she should make clear right up front.)

During most every conversations, the CP would ask: "What are you looking for in a church?" and I gave them all the same answer. "Well," I responded, "I'm looking for a church that has a high view of God and a high view of Scripture. I'd like a pastor that preaches pretty much verse-by-verse. I'm looking for a church that is more intersted in preaching and teaching than implementing programs. I'm looking for a Sunday School that is also Biblically sound, one that will teach me and my family and, at the same time, challenge us to live in a way that honors God." The majority responded: "You've described our church exactly!" (NOTE: We visited some of those churches. They didn't know what they were talking about.)

One pastor in particular made an interesting statement, which is where I'm headed here. The church was a new congregation in town. They didn't have a building yet, so they were meeting in a rented facility (I'll tie that back into my thoughts in a moment). After I introduced myself and told him the nature of my call he asked me the "what are you looking for" question and I answered exactly as I had answered the other CP's. There was a pause, and then he said: "We're probably not the church for you. We cater to the 20 to 35 [year-old] age group, typically unchurched." He went on to explain that their style of worship was very contemporary and that the sermons tended to be--although Biblically based--more positive talks or messages. They did not have a Sunday School.

Several thoughts came to my mind:
  • Why or how did he assume I was too old for his church. ( I never told him my age.)
  • I presume "unchurched" means non-Christian or unbeliever. The term strikes me as kinda funny, though. What happens once a person begins to regularly attend their meetings (church) and becomes "CHURCHED?" Are they allowed to continue attending, sense the focus group is the "unchurched."

Another thing that occured to me. That pastor was right--his church wasn't for us. Why? Well, it took me a while, but it finally hit me--and it's the same thing I see in lots of churches today. They're not about the Bible. In saying "we're focused on the unchurched," what I have discovered is these types of churches are trying to appeal to people that really DON'T LIKE church--traditional church. So in order to attract them, they have to make "church" NOT LOOK LIKE "church." How do they do it?" Robert Schueller and Rick Warren discovered the easiest way to figure this out was to poll the community; ask them what they don't like about church and then create a "church" (Warren refers to it as a "community") that doesn't look like the things they hate. AND IT WORKS!!! In no particular order:

  • Unchurched people (UP's) don't like a church to look like a church. Maybe it's because they can't afford a building right now--but I notice a lot of new churches, especially ones that are courting the unchurched, are meeting in movie theatres or other rented facilities--as long as they don't look like a church. UP's will come to a movie theatre.
  • UP's don't like hymns. The words don't make sense to them and they don't have a beat you can dance too. UP's like peppy, jazzy, sometimes loud, driving music--preferably with repetitive lyrics that are easy to learn.
  • UP's don't like "churchy" clothes. It's not that they can't afford nice clothes, they just don't want to feel like they are dressing to go to a funeral, wedding or the office (all way more formal events than going to church).
  • UP's DON'T like sermons. Sermons make them feel bad about themselves, especially ones that use negative words like "sin." UP's want to hear "encouraging talks" and "motivational discussions" about how to raise their children, find a better job, or have better sex.
  • UP's would prefer to have their Sundays free. A Saturday night service is best for them. Not because they have to work on Sunday--they just don't want to get up early. If they can go to church ("unchurch") on Saturday night and get that out of the way, then they can sleep in, go have brunch and do something fun on Sunday.

An individual said to me on another blog thread: "As I’ve read your blog post and your responses, I guess what keeps hitting me is that you have very little (if any) scriptural backing for the positions you have put forth in a rather forceful manner." You know--he may be right. It's not about the's all about looks that won't offend "unchurched" people.

Pt 2: What about "unchurched" people? How are we supposed to reach them?


Neil said...

Great post, Keith. I doubt these churches even realize what they are saying. It is almost as if they will do or say anything to get you to come.

Baxter said...

I completely agree! The gatherings are for the edification of the BODY! And IF it should so happen that an unchurched (unbeliever) walks in...1 Cor 14:23 Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?
1 Cor 14:24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all;
1 Cor 14:25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.
1 Cor 14:26 ¶ What is {the outcome} then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

I just wanted to give my 2 cents about "dressing up". I have no problem and in fact prefer everyday clothes for "church". However, I have a problem with modesty.
1. men and/or women dressing provacatively, revealingly, sensually, etc.
2. men and/or women dressing to call attention to themselves.
However, I do believe this calls for wisdom and discernment and prayer (Eph 6:18 ¶ With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,) as to whether or not it's appropriate to say something. Our hearts must be pure. AND 1 Tim 2:9 Likewise, {I want} women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments,
1 Tim 2:10 but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.

I also think these things should be openly discussed and taught in meetings especially in light of the path "churches" are headed. As with any pertinent areas.

my 2cents

Keith said...

They WILL! One pastor's blog I read essentially stated: "I'll do whatever it takes to get them here." Whatever you get them there with is what you'll have to do to keep them.

Very good "2 cents"; in fact, you may have actually given us 3 or 4 cents worth there!