Occasionally I’m asked to teach church officers, seminarians, and other leaders about The 21st Century Church. Although my little road show gets tweaked each time I prepare to share it again, I am waiting for the day when everyone tells me that they already know that stuff.
Who has already heard all this before?
Only two people raised their hands. One was at a previous event where I shared the same material. The other was a seminarian who learned about these postmodern shifts in seminary – thanks be to God.
What I share is neither original nor earth-shatteringly fresh. My material comes from historians (Diana Butler Bass, Phyllis Tickle), friends (Carol Howard Merritt, Mary Ann McKibbon Dana, Bruce Reyes-Chow, Matt Pritchard), assorted other rock stars (Brian McLaren, Steve Knight, Troy Bronsink, Amy Moffitt, Theresa Cho, Mike Stavland, Mike Croghan, Shane Claiborne) and the staggering stats from the Church Leadership Connection of the PCUSA.
I talk about missional ecclesiology, relationship over membership, radical hospitality. That sort of thing.
My hope is that this talk will be utterly boring because it’s old news. I long for people to tell me that “everybody in church already knows this stuff.” So far, that’s not the case.
A very kind man recently challenged one of my ideas: Many of our church buildings share space with community groups like AA or Scouts. I suggested that – rather than be mere landlords – we get to know the people who come into our church buildings for their meetings. I shared that – in my previous congregation – we took a random week out of the year and opened up a makeshift coffee shop in the lobby every night for a week. We offered free lattes and mochas to everyone coming through our doors for everything from 12-Step groups to computer training classes. We wanted to get to know who they were, share free coffee drinks, and make a connection. What else did they need? How was our space serving them? How could we help in new ways?
The very kind man told me that my idea wouldn’t help in his church – where they offer their space to Boy Scouts – because the Scouts are already active members of various churches in the area. Then I suggested that it doesn’t matter that they are members of other churches. The point is not to recruit new members. The point is to make connections and create community. Even when our conversation was over, the very kind man didn’t seem to understand what I was talking about.
We don’t reach out into the community, make connections, serve our neighbors because we are trying to recruit new church members. We do it because we love people and want to share the compassion and hospitality of Jesus. We want to create community.
My hope is that a day will come when those of us in the institutional church will relinquish the practices and habits of the 1950s church (it’s about membership!) and reclaim the practices and habits of the first disciples of Jesus (it’s about sharing Christ-like compassion!) And there are a couple of other things we might need to change.