How hard is it to go to church?
Over the years I served in the Army as a Chaplain, I spent a lot of time rubbing shoulders with unchurched, non-christian, people. They were a tough bunch, fearless and committed. They were willing to try most things, or at least give them a go. But when it came to attending church, they showed a palpable fear which I struggled to understand.
'But then I got to thinking about how I react to things I do not know, understand or have never experienced. For example, jumping out of an aircraft with a parachute on my back. I have to say I was absolutely terrified, and that was just knowing I was about to put the parachute on and sit in the back of a plane. Jumping was an unknown, that we spent several long and hard weeks preparing for. The actual initial leap, despite that training, was, and still remains, one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.
In reflecting on this, I get why non-christian, unchurched, or whatever you call them, are scared of. They have no idea what to expect when they enter a church. Especially if they have had no preparation or lead time to explore what it may be like. Too many times I heard these tough hard fearless people say, with all genuine conviction, "the roof would collapse if I entered a church!"
So are we expecting too much to create churches that would alleviate this fear? I suspect so. It doesn't matter how slick the service is, what we do to make it appealing, the language we use, the coffee we put on, or the welcoming nature of the community, we have to some how overcome the deep seated fear of an unknown that most non-christian or unchurched people have.
There has to be a intermediate space. Somewhere where these people can rub shoulders with Christians in an informal, nonthreatening manner. No that doesn't mean we boldly abandon church and create house churches, cafe-churches, or some other space where Christians gather to worship - they're still "church" and that's what people are most fearful of! What I mean is that Christians need to stop expecting their unchurched, non-Christian friends, family, neighbours colleagues, to simply show up to church because "we're such a friendly mob". Instead take up the invite to enter into their spaces. Our spaces need to reflect what is normal to them, and in that space allow the Spirit to infuse the Gospel through us both informally and with a degree of apprehensive intentionality.
Take a look at how Jesus did this. How many times did he enter a home and eat with people? How many times did he sit and listen? How often did he respond to questions rather than deliver a rote learned conversion spiel, or "believer's prayer"? How often he got his hands dirty doing the things of the people? now take a look at who got most upset by all this - it wasn't the people he did it with, it was the religious leadership and their devout "pious" followers who expressed the most angst that "this isn't how God does things!"
You overcome fear, not by throwing people in the deep end and asking them whether they can swim or not, but by entering the shallows and allowing your feet to get wet with the person alongside you. That's why we need to be intentional about mission. That's why we need to realise Sunday morning service is to empower us for the engagement with people who weren't there during the week. That's why we need spaces, such as missional communities, coffee clubs, men's and women's groups, even youth groups and kid's groups, all designed to provide that initial experience of getting one's feet spiritually wet before we ask them to swim in the grown-ups end of the pool. But most importantly, let's stop just talking about it and actually get out there and be the people God expects us to be with the very people His Son died for!