Monday, May 17, 2010

Sometimes Going to Church Is Not the Answer.

Several years ago, a traditional church in a southern city followed the lead of some missional members to reach out to children who lived in a lower-income area near the church building. The couple lived in the area and was already involved with the children through their relationships in the neighborhood and by opening their home for fellowship, tutoring, and Bible studies. Some other members of the church volunteered to help with these activities. The point finally came when someone suggested that the children be invited to attend worship at the contemporary service of the church.

This was a worthy idea, but it soon became apparent that it was doomed to failure. The children were not “used to being in church” even when the worship was upbeat and celebrative. Some church members suggested that they be involved in classes to help understand “how they should act.” As you might expect, the children became less and less interested in attending, and the effort to integrate them into the life of the church failed.

I thought of this recently when I was listening to a friend whose ministry involves doing evangelism in Southeast Asia as he shared the lessons that he had learned. Early in his ministry, he focused on spending time with youth and young adults in certain recreational and sports activities, developing relationships, and sharing the Gospel as the opportunity came. When one of these young men accepted Christ, my friend would attempt to link him to a local church. The “hand off” rarely worked. He came to understand that the church was ready to accept the new converts only if they changed to meet the church’s standards. This often meant not only changing life style but giving up contact with former friends and even family members.

The changes expected of the new convert that became a stumbling block were not doctrinal concerns. Most of these young men just knew Jesus and little else. The problem was matters of dress, language, and association.

The learning experience for my friend was that transformation doesn’t come from going to church but in knowing Jesus. He does not question the commitment or mission of the churches in his area, but he admits that they were a bad fit for new believers. He is now working to develop indigenous faith communities for new converts.

Both situations remind us that those of us in traditional churches may unwittingly provide barriers that keep the unchurched and newly converted out of our fellowships. We don’t do it intentionally, but we expect too much and too soon. We also may take a passionate new believer out of the environment where he or she can have the most impact on unbelievers at a key time.

Sometimes going to church is not the answer.

4 comments:

blueridgeguy said...

Nice article, and I see this all the time, when prospective members come from an addictive background, to the church. If they can divorce themselves completely from their past and their friends, they will be desired by the church members [read, older]; if not, they will be lost from the opportunity.

Sad, but true. I don't think NOT going to church is the answer, but changing the judgmental style of the members is. But then...I'm a little out of step with the conventional 'religious' right, anyway.

blueridgeguy said...

Nice article, and I see this all the time, when prospective members come from an addictive background, to the church. If they can divorce themselves completely from their past and their friends, they will be desired by the church members [read, older]; if not, they will be lost from the opportunity.

Sad, but true. I don't think NOT going to church is the answer, but changing the judgmental style of the members is. But then...I'm a little out of step with the conventional 'religious' right, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Ircel,

A thought provoking post. With your permission, I would like to share this with my Sunday Night Bible Study group.

Leonard

Ircel said...

Please share at will. Just emphasize that I DO think that coming to know Christ is important as is growing in discipleship; I just don't think it has to happen in the walls of a church (and that may, in fact, hinder these things from happening).