April 9, 2014 by cbbeard
“What would it take to get you to attend a Muslim worship service?” That was the question I recently heard at Verge 2014 that helped me gain a clearer understanding of the post-Christian culture we are called to reach for Christ.
The speaker* was making the case that in our current cultural environment, those who do not know Jesus should no longer simply be placed in a category of “unchurched,” but instead are more appropriately considered as a religious group in and of themselves. Hence the impact of his question. What would it take for you, a Christian, to attend a worship service (that will probably make you quite uncomfortable) for Allah, a god you don’t believe is legit?
I threw this question out to a group of people in my congregation recently, and it seemed that there is only one circumstance in which they would consider darkening the doors of a Muslim mosque…relationship. Frankly, I was surprised that there were some who were not completely against the proposition. And while none thought that attending would change their mind or faith, many said that if they were friends with a Muslim that they would consider attending an event if asked.
Relationship, that’s it. Not one person said that if they received a postcard in the mail advertising a mosque that they would check it out. No one thought there would be an “event” or “activity” that could draw them to the mosque. Nobody thought there would be a “sermon series” that would pique their interest enough, nor an emphasis that related to their life (i.e. “how to have a better marriage,” “how to manage your finances,” “how to be better parent,” etc.) that would convince them to attend.
No, the barriers that stand between a Christian and a Muslim mosque are too great to be overcome by advertisements, clever marketing, or even relevant material. The only way that gap could ever be bridged is if a relationship built on love and trust was the motivator (and even then it might be a long shot). And yet, why do we think that attractional efforts will work for those who don’t know Jesus? Why do we think those things will get them to darken the door for a worship service (that will likely make them quite uncomfortable) for a God they don’t necessarily believe is legit?
We are in a time of change. “Christendom” (where the church was at the center of society and those who didn’t know Christ were more receptive to attractional efforts) is dying if not completely dead. The paradigm has shifted and the church is once again at the periphery. Our culture resembles the context of the First Century church more than it ever has since that time. And as Loren Mead wrote:
With each change of paradigm, roles and relationships change and power shifts. New structures develop. New directions emerge. Things that were of great value in one age become useless in the next. (Mead, 1991, p. 8)
We must come to grips with these shifts, and understand that what was once valuable (attractional methods) are now less-so, if they are valuable at all. This loss of value is tied to the reality that attracting people to church as a missional strategy is infinitely more difficult when we consider the gaps that now must be bridged.
Therefore, instead of “getting people to church” as we have striven for in the past, we must “get the church to the people,” realizing that our goal is not winning people to the church, but introducing them to Jesus.
When Jesus was sent to culminate the reconciling mission of God through his incarnation, death, and resurrection it was HE who traversed the gap, leaving heaven to meet humanity where we were. He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but he humbled himself, he emptied himself and dwelt in this broken world amongst its broken people to be obedient to death, even death on a cross! (See John 1, Philippians 2). As Christ’s ambassadors we need to follow the example of our king and traverse the gap, leaving the comfort of our church buildings and meet others where they are. We must humble ourselves and become obedient as God’s people, for God’s glory and for the sake of the world.
What do you think? How do we bridge the gap for people who are skeptical or even critical of “church?” How can we be most effective in mission for both those who are receptive to “attractional” methods, as well as those who are not likely to ever attend a church event?
*Unfortunately, my notes were undiscernible and my memory fleeting, so I am unable to give credit to the specific speaker. Whoever he was, I appreciate his insight. His talk was the inspiration for this post.
Mead, L. B. (1991). The once and future church: Reinventing the congregation for a new mission frontier. Washington, D.C.: Alban Institute.