This is a follow up on some thoughts i have had after posting previously on visitors in our churches. In those posts it was helpful to look at church services from the actual view point of the visitor, instead of trying to guess what they might think and feel about coming to church. One theme of the two posts that i picked up on was the desire for the visitor not to embarrass themselves! That really got me thinking because some of the horror stories coming out of the article about “hugging churches” made me cringe…a lot…a lot. So in a sense it seems that for many, visiting a church means being unseen and yet also feeling welcomed. For some of the journalists who had a good experience it boiled down to a sensitive Christian community that did not ignore them but made them feel welcome. Easy, right? Not quite, as i said before there is no formula because we are dealing with people and as much as humans exhibit the characteristics of the legendary lemmings, we cannot predict how people will react when they come into our meetings.
Yet, i think we need to start with what i mentioned earlier, sensitivity to the visitor. This is key as i think for many churches we may have fallen into the trap that we are not expectant of the visitor, particularly the sceptical visitor. Maybe we have stopped asking friends, maybe we have stopped listening to the world’s questions, or maybe we see services as times for Christians and should in no way should cater for the visitor. For the Christian? Yes, first and foremost it is a time for us as Jesus’ disciples to meet together, encourage one another, hear from God’s Word, prayer together and generally fellowship. But, our scheduled meetings are not some mystical time where God’s people are meant to meet “behind closed doors” ignoring the outside world. Paul says to the Corinthians that there will be outsiders in their midst (cf. Paul’s assumption of the presence of unbelievers in the congregation in 1 Cor 14) and so as a church who meets together we need to be sensitive to this fact. Here’s an example that i know got me every time when i first started going to church meetings. For instance, the service leader may tell the congregation that later we will “hear the Word of God” from the “preacher” who will come up and explain the Bible. Now, try and put yourself in the visitors shoes and imagine what they might think of language like that? This takes us back to a questions i had in the previous post; What then is the purpose of our meetings?
Paul has one goal for for the public gathering of believers: to build one another up. As Christians do this in love, it becomes a massive witness to the outsider. However, what ever we do in our meetings needs to be intelligible and helpful for the outsider in order for them to simply understand what is going on. This seems pretty obvious…until you think through the various practices we have at our Church meetings that we understand, but for outsider is completely irrelevant.
Which leads us to the question: how much should the outsider’s perspective shape the way we do our church services? (or do church as a whole?) Is it just an issue of the language we use? or does it go even further to mindsets?
Here’s my take for what it is worth: sensitivity means understanding that there will be outsiders in our midst. The cultural and perspectival gap between the believers and non-believers will be massive, that gap needs to be lessened. So yes, the outsider should have a definite say as to how we do our meetings in order to make it relevant, fresh and missional. If it becomes a “locals” club for Christians with only their preferences then how are going to connect with the unbeliever?
Lets try and be sensitive to the outsider and purposeful in bringing them in!