Debs has gotten quite a lot of response to her simple question (below).
Posted by: Debs on: July 22, 2009
Do you believe the church is intended for the believer or non-believer…and why? Think about it, it’s not as simple as you may think…. ;)
I had already responded once, giving an answer that wasn’t precisely what she was asking. The church is for Jesus. But as to my thoughts on the question she was really addressing, they’re too long for a polite response on anyone else’s blog, so I’m posting them here.
I’ve been reading through the dialogue on your post, and I think I know what you’re saying, but maybe not. What is a church “service?” What does that mean? For me, a year ago, that meant sitting through some horrible music and listing to a good sermon, smiling at a few people, shaking hands, then heading out for breakfast.
We no longer do “services.” Soon I’ll get the house tidied up. The church will meet here this afternoon. We’ll play with the kids, have a meal, spend some time worshiping, discussing, praying, prophesying, etc.–whatever the Holy Spirit leads us to do. Counting everything, it will go on for five hours or so.
Tomorrow morning, two of us will visit a lady who can’t join us on Sundays, do a bible study with her, then another two will visit a lady whose husband is antagonistic to the gospel, provide some moral support, pray, do some more bible study, have a snack. In the evening, some more ladies will be getting together for a study on Esther. That’s church, too.
To the traditional church environment, no matter how good the show, I would not bring an unbeliever even if I could find one willing to go (which is not easy). No one would notice she was there; if I introduced her, people would politely welcome her, nothing like true friendship; she would not understand the language nor the concepts taught in that strange language, and would feel uncomfortable (as indeed I do, too).
To the simple church environment, I would willingly bring an unbeliever, and I would not worry about the music or the pastor’s sermon or about whether she would feel intimately welcomed. No problem. The music is just us singing together; there is no sermon; and no person of reasonable good will could ever feel unwelcome.
To the visiting environment, I would be even more comfortable bringing an unbeliever. It seems that the smaller the group, the less threatening and the more appropriate it can be for friendship and eventual discipleship. In that way, I would say that yes, the church is an appropriate place to bring unbelievers. It all depends on what “church” means and is.
What I’m looking for right now, however, is the man/woman/family of peace. Someone receptive to Jesus, someone who knows people and has a circle of influence, and is open to bringing those friends/family together to explore spiritual things. That may happen at table 10 in a cafe, or in a crowded apartment, or even under a bridge at the city park. This is what I see Jesus doing in the gospels–bringing the good news to the world, rather than the world to the sanctuary of the four walls.
I don’t know about GB, but in the US, bringing people to the church in the four walls is not an attractive option to said people. They feel they’re “in the cross-hairs,” rather than being sought out for friendship. Our traditional churches try all sorts of things to get people to come. The youth pastor of our old church gave out prizes–expensive prizes–to the lucky winners of the evening’s drawing. He got a lot of kids, but only as long as he continued offering the prizes, etc. The thought of Jesus saying to the crowd after the feeding of the 5,000, “You seek me because you ate of the loaves and were filled” comes to mind.
Other churches try to invoke a pub/coffee shop/entertainment type of environment, tasteful decor, spectacular music, stellar sermons complete with special effects. They train greeters, offer targeted ministries for every conceivable special needs group, and even have great coffee. Yes, they’re trying very, very hard to appeal to unbelievers, and yet the church as a whole is shrinking in the US almost as fast as it is growing in China, where becoming a believer can get you beaten, thrown in jail, and even executed (unofficially–but still . . . ).
People in the US are leaving the traditional church in record numbers. Many are leaving because they’ve never been a part of us, and many more are leaving because they’ve lost their faith. But there’s a third group–people who are leaving because they wish to preserve their faith. Some of these people end up “doing church” at home, with their own families, and some of them band together in groups like the one coming to our house this afternoon. God is doing a new thing (well, maybe not so new–maybe God is bringing back a very old thing–a foundational thing). We need more of the next stage, where the church spills completely out of the building and into the world, and I believe that is coming, too.
The church is for Jesus. The church is for a display of God’s Son to the spiritual forces of wickedness at work in the world. The church is for the training up of the saints to the work of service to Jesus, to one another and (this is where unbelievers come in) to the world. The church is to be the city set on a hill; not the lamp hidden under a basket (or inside a special building). In order to give light to the world, we need to go out into the world. Inviting the world to come in and enjoy our light is fine, but isn’t it even better to go out into the highways and gathering places of the world and shine there?
Grace and Peace, Cindy