The Church for those who don’t like church… really?
I wonder how many of you have run across religious organizations that like to use this phrase (or some variation of it) as their “outreach slogan”. A few weeks ago I received a flyer in the mail from a “new” church in the area that proposes to be a “church for people who don’t like going to church.” This reminds me of a pastor friend who said to me a few years back, “Dave, I hope to one day build the kind of church that even you would want to attend.”
Most of you will recall how I have mentioned this subject before and most of you know how much of an utterly ignorant and ridiculous a statement I think this is… My sincere apologies if I have offended anyone who is really jazzed about attending one of these post-modernistic church organizations that thrives on this logic. But if I have just pushed a button, I hope you’ll hang on and hear me out. If you’re really interested in reaching people who aren’t into church, then it might help you to understand our mindset a bit more before you set off with big intentions to try and pull us all back into “the fold”.
I guess then, as it turns out, this blog post today is for those of you I have just described; Those of you who really think a hip new church program is the answer and the way to reach people who could care less about hip new church programs.
Please know that I previously spent 30 years of my life in church world and I am very familiar with the thought-process of the typical church-goer, not to mention that of many pastors who often lead these kind of endeavors.
I remember discussions with friends back in my church-going days about how it would be cool to try something like this (a post-modern, non-churchy church endeavor)… You see, even then, there were things about typical church that annoyed me (and a number of the rest of us) and I was also able to see back then how so many of our religious practices stemmed from stale traditions, were badly outdated, unbiblical, and tended toward legalism. We knew then that so many of these things were part of what turned off a lot of folks outside our walls and they even embarrassed many of us in the church system. I’m quite sure that plenty of folks who attend church today could probably find some agreement with this.
Our instinct seemed to be a cry for reform! We wanted to see things change! We too were tired of the boring weekly routine. We were secretly asking the question we’d never dare admit out loud… Is this really all there is? It can’t be… and we certainly can’t let it be, so we have to do something to make it not be. We thought we wanted to be part of a church that was relevant, unique, fun, on the cutting edge, and totally in harmony with Jesus. Is there an honest person out there who can relate to some of these feelings?
- As a side note, I really believe that this is a large part of the reason I welcomed the Toronto movement when it hit. Though I was hesitant at first, because it appeared so unusual (and I questioned whether it was really from God or not), I eventually gave myself to it. It was refreshing to see the old stale routine busted up and nothing appeared to be business as usual anymore. People were finally starting to recognize the deadness of religion and legalism… and more people were talking about Jesus than they were about church programs or pastor’s sermons. But, as I’ve written before, the devil was in the details and a lot of corrupt doctrines and concept eventually crept in.
Though I’m embarrassed to admit some of the things I once embraced, I thank God with all my heart that He delivered me from those errors and the experience has caused me to be more discerning as I look forward. One very interesting thing I noticed about the Toronto thing when it happened… Despite the good that transpired a midst the crazy, God also did something in my heart that produced a real hunger in my heart for truth (especially the Word of God). The more I yielded to the Lord in this genuine pursuit of His Truth, the more deliverance and freedom I experienced from the bondage of religion and the more I began to recognize the amount of religion I was still captivated by and infected with. The more I began to read God’s Word, the more I realized the gross deviations from it that were being taught by many in the movement.
Eventually, I withdrew myself from the environment entirely… Not just the “revival” but “church world” itself. I also watched as those whom I once thought had left behind religion to embrace the “new thing” God was doing, actually just digressed into further religion and more and more false doctrine. Churchianity took an even stronger hold on many (even though those captivated by it thought they were breaking free from religion). Even some of my very close friends thought I had become totally deceived because I was pulling away from this environment.
I mention all of this to illustrate how, though there was a time many of us thought we had broken free from religion (because of this new distraction of so-called “revival” or “renewal”), it was a setup of the enemy in many ways. It left many of us spiritually arrogant, willfully ignorant of biblical truth, and caught up in delusion. While everyone was talking about “more Love” and “more of God” and using all these revival buzz words that one would think might assume “good fruit”, the truth was that there was a lot of very bad fruit; broken marriages, broken families, wounded saints, spiritual confusion, and greater darkness flooded into the churches. People began embracing false teachers, false prophets and prophecies, lying signs and wonders, and were intoxicated with emotionalism and spiritualism (that was drawn from New Age and even occult philosophies mixed with Christian phraseology) rather than satisfying their spiritual hunger with Christ the Lord and the Word of Truth.
Thank God for His delivering power and love! As I look back on all that, I see how the devil manipulated so many that had a genuine weariness with religion and he cleverly presented another substitute. So many of us knew, before the Toronto Blessing took over, that religion was killing us and we were so tired of the same old routine that left us empty, spiritually dry, and hungry for a touch from God.
I really believe that, even among those people and churches that did not embrace the Toronto movement, still many of those people will likely relate to this; how so many people have felt the deadness of religion swallowing them up and causing them to long inwardly for the experience of that first love they had with Jesus and the kind of excitement about the Lord we read of in Scripture among the early Christians.
I recall the seasons of zeal that stirred my heart, even back in my days of religious adherence and faithful church-going. I remember the ideas that would flood my mind about how Christians might break out of the traditional molds we have been seized by and reform our church experience to something fresh and new. I thought, “How great it would be to see this happen! After all, why must we always think of church the same boring way? Why not do it differently?” I remember the conversations I used to have among like-minded friends about how much better church really could be, now that we were no longer blinded by religion,” (like we were sure that everyone else was); and we really thought we had come to a place of full liberty and were no longer trying to put new wine into an old wineskin. Sigh… We thought we had so much of it all figured out. Though I know part of my heart was in the right place and many of my intentions were good, I was still infected with religion.
The funny thing is, the way we always set out to accomplish this well-meaning ideal (to reform Christian thinking about how the Body of Christ is supposed to function) was by applying the same stale solutions to the problem, which (obviously) was no real solution at all… just a lot more of the same old thing in different clothes. It is hardly any wonder that we’d see a lot of excitement about “new directions” or (in other words) “slight alterations to the program” at the beginning, and then experience a degeneration over time to another lifeless routine, which again became hum-drum church as usual. We had to always figure out some new way to keep things interesting because… well… apparently God just wasn’t quite interesting enough. It must be our church program that keeps people interested in following God and without a good program, people just won’t be interested in God… so we have to get this right! The program became a major part of what defined us as Believers… and we allowed it to gauge our spirituality, to qualify it, to control it, and to influence everybody else with it.
Sad that the whole thing really avoided the most important thing of all; a resolution to give it all up to Jesus and let His Holy Spirit be the Leader of our lives… even if that meant it might lead us completely away from “business-as-usual” churchianity. The very idea was out of the question! We simply could not envision a Church (i.e. the body of Christ) without “church” (i.e. a religious organization)!
Today, the same mindset plagues so many Christian people. And when they hear someone like me talk this way about church world, all they think is that I’m against Christians meeting together or even organizing for various purposes, but that’s actually not true at all. The big problem I see is that most (church-attending) Christians don’t really know how to differentiate between a man-made organization (which they label “church”) as opposed to that which the Bible calls the “ecclesia” (the Church of the Firstborn – those who have been called out of darkness into His marvelous Light)… Note I said most, not all. If they were able to see their little organization as nothing more than that, a lifeless building and a man-made set of organizational processes that has NOTHING to do with actually being a follower of Jesus or being saved into the Family of God, then maybe they would just take it for what it is and stop throwing it in everyone’s face as though it were the be-all and end-all of the Christian life. If they really thought that their meeting hall was ONLY a meeting hall, then maybe they really could BE the Church. But they DON’T usually see it that way. They see the meeting hall (and all of its liturgy and legalism) as an essential part of Christianity itself. Simply put, you cannot really be thought of as being a Christian if you don’t go to a church! And, therefore, if you don’t go to church and yet dare to call yourself a follower of Jesus, then you really need to be convinced of the importance of the church building and program. But (their thinking goes), we don’t want to scare you off, so we’re gonna pose a clever approach that is sure to win you over… The logic basically goes like this:
“Hey, we want to reach people that are burned out on church….. Hmmm… I wonder how we can accomplish that…. Hey, I know! Let’s start another church!”
Forgive me for laughing out loud there, but that’s the basic idea… Yet it seems that none of these groups have any clue about how (pardon me) stupid that kind of logic sounds, especially to those that are burned out on church. In case you’re reading this and still aren’t catching the hint…
Definition of Stupid: “Lacking in common sense or perception. Characterized by or proceeding from mental dullness, foolish; senseless. Tediously dull, especially due to lack of meaning or sense; inane, pointless.”
If you’re trying to reach someone who isn’t interested in church… trust me… STARTING ANOTHER CHURCH ISN’T GOING TO WORK!
In my town there are a number of churches who have started re-vamping their routine; trying desperately to make themselves more relevant. Time and again I hear the same old rhetoric used: “Are you one of those people who doesn’t like going to church? Are you looking for a place where you can belong, find fellowship, encouragement, that doesn’t feel churchy? Try our church… We’re different. We get it… We have an espresso machine and our pastor skydives.” Ok, maybe not those exact words, but you get the idea… Then, 5 minutes after you’re there you realize as you look around that they still have 4 fast songs and 3 slow ones, a benediction, announcements (usually by video with plucky comic relief by witty church volunteers), collection of tithes and offerings (bla bla bla), a sermon, prayer, and coffee and donuts in the foyer (or a lounge room with couches). Virtually every single church group I’ve seen that claims to be a “church for those who don’t like church” are nothing more than just another church… and, guess what? Those of us who don’t like church…. STILL don’t like it.
Please, someone in church world explain to me, HOW IN THE WORLD DO YOU THINK THIS WILL EVER APPEAL TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T LIKE CHURCH?
- I’ll never forget one of these churches that I visited once that actually uses the term “Family Room” in the title of the organization (no offense is meant to anyone who might know what organization I’m speaking of – it’s actually not called “family room” but another popular room of the house). Intrigued, I along with a friend of mine dropped in one Sunday for a look. I tell you the truth, this is what we saw… As we walked in the front door, there was a little staged area off the to the right that looked like a very small family room. It had a couch, coffee table, TV stand, etc. It looked like a miniature family room… but it was only for show. There was no way an entire group of people could ever use this room. It wasn’t even large enough to be a sitting area (like you would expect in a regular church foyer); It was crafted solely as a visual point to notice when you walked in the door (like passing by a museum exhibit… Basically a full-scale logo). After you passed “the family room” the rest was essentially church as usual. A coffee bar in the foyer, a sanctuary (consisting of tables and chairs in front of the platform – intended to allow coffee and doughnut consumption while observing the sermon), loud rock worship music, and a fairly typical order of service. Once again, a marginally clever gimmick (to entice outsiders with the impression of a relaxed, home-style environment by way of unique name for the church), a cute little display that matched the name of the church, but still EVERY BIT church as usual. In fact, to my taste, it was even more lifeless than “church as usual” because the gimmick (the environmental effect) and the slightly modified program were the central focus, not Christ Jesus. The service was a post-modernistic, emergent-style, social club gathering (that wasn’t even all that social at all… as the 2 people that actually talked to us just said, “Welcome to our church… Check out our new building… Isn’t this a cool place?”). I don’t recall a single Scripture passage being mentioned or a testimony about Christ, or prayer/ministry for others occurring, spiritual gifts of any kind, or an opportunity to hear the Gospel. It was a rock concert and a pep talk… the coffee wasn’t even free.
I suppose someone out there might find this kind of environment “cool” or “socially relevant” (and I’m really not suggesting that drinking coffee in a building that looks like a night club while listening to Christian rock music is necessarily wrong in and of itself – and I don’t mean to judge anyone who enjoys these things), but as a person who loves the Lord and desires real fellowship with the Body of Christ and a focus on biblical truth and a real demonstration of the Holy Spirit at work among folks, this religious environment (like I described in the last paragraph) has no appeal to me, no real benefit… and it is certainly NOT ESSENTIAL to my walk with Christ – so please, dear inventor of church for those who hate church, stop presuming I care about your inventive program! I’m not seeking a gimmicky religious pastime to engage in on Sunday mornings. How in the world do some folks suppose that they are going to attract people who were once part of the typical church program but who are not the least bit turned on by churchianity anymore by then presenting them with churchianity in different clothing? Ugh! We who know Christ and don’t place churchianity on any high pedestal are never going to be attracted by more churchianity, no matter how you dress it up. We believe other things are far more essential to faith, to fellowship, to spiritual nourishment and relationship with Christ… so unless you can demonstrate those better and most essential things sincerely and with the obvious power of God by the moving of His Holy Spirit (regardless of your “package”), you are only demonstrating the great plague of spiritual lack you are diseased with.
If you’re really interested in “gathering the body of Christ”, then do it and stop getting clever about it and, even worse, manipulative. If you want to get together, then get together… Whether you do it at home, at the park, at a theater, or (surprise surprise) a church building, just meet. Who cares if there’s 100 of you or 3. Stop trying to fool the rest of us. We know what you’re up with the whole “church growth” thing and it’s nothing new. Remember, unless THE LORD builds the House, they which labor, do so in vain.
NOW THIS IS IMPORTANT… What is that “house” that the Scripture is talking about… The house of God is the HOUSEHOLD. It’s a spiritual thing. The apostle Paul described it as a SPIRITUAL house of LIVING STONES (i.e. PEOPLE); 1 Peter 2:5. It has nothing to do with a building. The apostle Paul declared that WE are that house (that “temple”), NOT A BUILDING! So flush the whole “house of God” idea as being a church building you attend, because Jesus never taught such nonsense! …and I dare say to you this… HE’S STILL NOT TEACHING SUCH NONSENSE!
If you really want to reach out to people who don’t like church, may I please first ask you WHY? What is your motive for “reaching” us/them? Is it because you think we cannot have a relationship with Christ without attending an organization? Stop trying to deceive us with your false evangelism ploy. When you come at us going, “Hey, we don’t like church as usual either and we understand you…” but then you go right ahead and say, “But come try our church,” PLEASE! Please get a clue! You are talking nonsense!
Secondly, if your motive to “reach us” is not about concern over our relationship with Christ or thinking that we must be backsliding and need church to be saved, then why can’t you just come to us as a brother or sister in Jesus and let that be enough? Why does a church organization ever have to be part of the conversation? WE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR COOL CHURCH PROGRAM! But we might just appreciate your friendship, if it’s sincere and genuine. We might just appreciate you hanging at our place for dinner or doing some mutually-enjoyable activity together as friends, where conversation is free and unfettered by some ulterior agenda to try and work some religious order into everything. It utterly frustrates me that even some of the coolest people who happen to gather in a church environment (even a really cool church environment with all the exciting bells and whistles that make that kind of thing attractive to some people), FAIL so often on the point of relationships, when it comes to maintaining those relationships outside the church environment. They use all the right lingo… they talk about loving people… but just try to have a regular friendship with any number of them. Unless your butt sits in the pews, you won’t usually see much of them. Unless you’re involved in the same church programs they are, they won’t often have time for hanging with you. Everything revolves around church first. Of course, not everyone fits the stereotype, but I’m sad to say that the stereotype fits most! So again, we don’t care about your church program… but we’d like to care about you and feel like maybe you really cared about us too.
The thing is, many of us sincerely crave fellowship (yes, we actually want to hang out with you). We love God’s people. We already know that in Christ we ARE part of THE Fellowship! Anyone who belongs to Him, belongs to His Family and are IN the Fellowship! But we also crave the tangible expression of this. We desire to have friends too and to socially interact as well as enjoy the benefit of sharing Christ together. The difficult thing is, many of us don’t want friends that are only friends if “church” must be at the center of the relationship (rather than Christ). We also aren’t usually fans of all the other junk that comes associated with religion (that has nothing to do with biblical Christianity). To put it another way, we want YOU we just don’t want your club. The problem is that many who have decided to disconnect from church world worry that church is the only place to find you. Some of us make compromises and go “back to church” because we so desperately want to fellowship with you, but you have no idea what kind of internal conflict this presents for us.
I think of all those Christmas Hallmark movies where the dad works too hard and neglects his family and friends because he’s married to his job… They should make a movie about church people who are blind to the relationships around them because they are married to their church! It happens all the time and I almost dare say a lot more often than a dad who is married to his job. I think this is a much bigger problem that is created and maintained BY THE CHURCH! So, of course, I’m not interested!
Thirdly, if your motive to “reach us” is very simplistic, because you just think the organization you are part of is cool, then just try to understand, we aren’t impressed by it so stop dangling it like a rotten carrot in front of our face. We don’t feel any need or desire to be entertained by it. We don’t feel any obligation to attend such a thing. We actually see it as a distraction of more important things. We’re not going to be enamored by the awesomeness of your cool, motorbike riding preacher. We’re not likely to be interested in your song service that plays the same old mediocre emotion-based sing-song tunes over and over again, week after week, in the name of “worship”, where one person tells us how to “enter God’s throne room”… We know how to enter God’s throne room, and we know it doesn’t require a groovy religious rock band singing “Open Up The Heavens” on Sunday morning to accomplish it (and constantly being told when to stand up, raise our hands, dance, shout, sit down, clap, etc.). We don’t need your organization “encouraging” us about how “giving money to the church is worship”. We know this is just more religious mumbo jumbo to get money to pay for your cool program and really has virtually no actual spiritual element to it. We already know that giving is a matter of relationship with the Father and we believe it is His Spirit that leads us how and where and when to give… and that giving isn’t necessarily always money and it’s NEVER anyone else’s business unless we chose to make it so or the Father leads us to let someone else know.
I’m speaking bluntly for your benefit because you need to hear it. You need to hear how we feel and see how we think. This is not evidence of a bad attitude or because we are hurt or bitter. Many of us have a variety of different stories related to how we came out of the routine of religion, but those details are no longer about how we choose to live each day and to engage a genuine, awesome relationship with Jesus. We very much desire HIM to be at the center of our conversation and practice, but you keep throwing this other “thing” you call church in the middle. I’m speaking bluntly so your eyes will open and you will understand.
This reaction is not because we don’t love you or because we don’t want friends or don’t believe in fellowship with other believers. WE DO!!! We just don’t define “fellowship” any longer in terms of sitting in a chair, looking at the back of some guys head, while some guy tells us how to live (because he studied about it all week in preparation for his sermon).
The truth is that many of us have continued to darken the doors of your church buildings on occasion, because we keep hoping that someone in there really believes that Jesus is to be the center of our conversation and our relationships. Many of us have given second, third, and fourth chances in hopes that we would find evidence of a genuine expression of love by people who care more about God and each other than religion. But we keep bumping into your programs and all the rhetoric that goes along with it and you won’t allow it any other way. Even when you try to re-package it so that it’s less legalistic and more “inclusive” it still gets in the way of Jesus! We hate it because we desperately want to know who you are and how we might walk together in Christ with you. We’re not often sure how to tell you politely, with all love and grace, that we don’t give a sh** about churchianity. That has NOTHING to do with how much we desire to be among our family in Christ. We’re just tired of having to put up with the rules of the devil’s playground that we just happen to think “church” has become.
God already has a Church; His body! He doesn’t need another (i.e. your organization). In fact, I’ll say it plainly, with no apologies… HE DOESN’T HAVE ANOTHER!!!
You simply will NEVER be able to think up a style of church that is given any significant regard by people who are only interested in the One Church that Christ Himself has ALREADY established! WE DO NOT CARE ABOUT ANY OTHER!!!
Do you remember the church organization I first spoke about in this post (the one that sent me the advertisement about being the church for those that don’t like church)? Well… I wrote to them. I tried to share with them what I have shared here today… It does not appear to have been received too well. They responded only with the comment, “Sounds like you have it all figured out.” Sadly, this only confirmed to me that they really aren’t interested in those who don’t like church (despite the claims of their clever ad)… I don’t wish to be their judge, but it does make me wonder if they even belong to Christ at all, when they can so quickly reject a member of His body who attempts to reach out to them in love and speak to them as the very person they claim to have a heart to reach. If it weren’t that I have walked in similar shoes myself (before I came out of the deception of religion), I would probably conclude as much… I think of the apostle Paul, who also thought he was doing God’s service while persecuting the Lord’s people. He knew the Scriptures, was a very religious man, educated in the best religious schools, and believed that He was serving the Lord (and did so zealously)… though it was eventually revealed that He didn’t know what he was doing or who he was doing it to. Jesus showed up in his path and convicted him of truth.
Paul told the Philippian believers that, before his conversion to Christ, he was a fiery defender of the purity of his religion, even to the point of persecuting Christians; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book. But once the Lord enabled him to see his error, he completely changed his heart toward the whole thing. I do like how the Message version paraphrases this passage:
- Philippians 3:7-10 – The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash–along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant–dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ–God’s righteousness. I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself.
That’s quite a conversion, wouldn’t you agree?! I have to say, I feel much the same way with respect toward the religion I also once embraced. I count it now as though it were manure and worthy of the trash bin. That strikes some folks as very offensive… but only because they don’t understand yet. What’s amazing is that Paul used these very strong words to describe the end of his religion… but does anyone question Paul’s devotion to Christ? They forget that the guy who wrote most of their New Testament Bible regarded his former religious life as completely without any value at all compared to the excellency of knowing Christ.
To all my church friends, past and present, I LOVE YOU! I am not against you. I am not desiring to be separated from you. I want to know you, to walk with you, to be your friend, to share Christ together with you… but I will not compete with your program and I will not be sucked into its religious grip (again). I already danced to that piper’s tune and I know where it leads. I know that “thing” was not created by Christ (for He has no substitute) and I know it is NOT His Church. Only those who have been bought by His precious blood are worthy of being called His Royal Assembly (His Church). THERE IS NO OTHER TO HAVE REGARD FOR! Your organization is only that – an organization! It is NOT the Church that Jesus established. Whether or not you continue to attend it is not my concern and that is between you and Jesus… seriously. I do not judge you because you choose to attend meetings somewhere… But if you will hold that institution in any way between us, then it is clear that you have made it your idol and we cannot enjoy any real, godly fellowship until you forsake your allegiance to the false god of churchianity and return to Christ Jesus, the Lord. Until then, I will be waiting. So many of us already are! I pray the day will soon come when many more return to Him.
With much love in Christ,