Lately, something has been bothering me, and I thought I'd get it off my chest, and put it down on paper. I've been doing some soul searching about the local church. Obviously the newest fade is the "emerging" church, but I am not a fan of that movement. I'd much rather side with Philip Yancey and his book Soul Survivor, how as scared as he was growing up in a church that was not ideal, he knows that God loves his bride.
However, onto my main point, as I've been observing things at my own church and posts here and talking to people and their situations with the local church, I've realized that in some cases we are just not very accommodating at all. Even worse, in some situations we have turned the local church in a corporate entity that works more like a 'country club' than a 'drop-in center'.
What I mean by 'country club' is that they exclusionary places. In the past, membership at a elitist yacht or golf club was a symbol status. However, may concern is more that these clubs are exclusionary, because they believe in conformity and uniformity. You have to interview, or convince someone on the board to allow you entry, only to assimilate them and make them become more like the rest. This is how some churches function. Church members is only obtained after filling out many forms, taking many hours of class and signing some forms of conduct. This is not bad in itself, however what has crept into the mentality and that changes how the church evangelizes.
When we as the church believe we have a monopoly on "goodness", we start to fall into the trap that we lose focus on God. Evangelism turns into this mechanism where we feel that if we get people into the sanctuary, past the doors on a Sunday morning, they fall in love with the friendly people and beg to join our elite group. That is possibly a very dangerous fallacy because the focus moves away from God and the gospel onto the church religion. We force other new members to assimilate and adopt our 'way of doing things'. Anything that does not confirm to our image of "country club" model is there put aside or cut out like a cancer. In this religion, the membership, or status and status-quo are key.
The other option for a church is more like a 'drop-in center', where there is no real qualification for entry. People come to server and be served, regardless of personal prejudices. Jesus as we know was a shinning example of this. There is a mixture of serving others, but also being served. We all take our turns in different roles. The reason we exist together is because we have a common goal and the companionship makes the journey easier. We are not trying to be perfect, so that people will like us and want to be like us. We can be human and vulnerable, because we understand God's grace towards us.
The drop-in center model has the added strength that it can adapt and adjust to the needs of the people that show up. Addressing the current new fade or needs doesn't define a drop-in center, addressing needs defines a drop-in center. Living in North American I see every week the very real results of not keeping up with the times. I have seen at least 3 churches now that are about to die off, as they did not adjust or accommodate new younger members. As the last few parishioners move past the twilight of their lives and pass-on, these churches too will die. The church next to ours which pretty much gave us our land has more people serving on some Sunday mornings than sitting in the pews, with no kids, no young couples, no even middle-aged families. Just a very small handful of very very aged worshipers. Being in Turkey and Greece many years ago was the same reminder. It's a reality, churches do die off, even once thriving congregations may not always be so.
From what I know from my own past experience, true growth and discipleship often happens in events outside the Sunday morning service. It happens on the church softball team, in the young couples small group, in the youth fellowship nights and home bible studies. Seeds are planted and curiosity is nurtured slowly. At some point, newcomers, because of the trust established start to explore their faith and ask the tough questions. In this scenario, people and relationships are key. A healthy church should have a good mix of *both* Christians and non-Christians!
Put another way: we should treat newcomer relationships like tour guides and tourist. (I got this idea from Ian Elliot, an on-campus worker with Inter-Varsity in Toronto.) We might have been on the journey a little bit longer, but we didn't invent or make it. Ever so often we learn something new and we try to pass it along, but the key is that we're coming along for the ride as well. In the 'Country Club' model, the goal is to move up the status latter, to obtain some desired goal, to be like so-and-so. The focus is on staying within the lines and doing the right thing. In the 'Drop-in Center' model, we rely on love and relationships. We work together, trying to determine God's plan for the church as equals.
Someone once said, do not aspire or want to be like the great ones, but rather aspire to want what they wanted. I want a church to be a fellowship of believers, where we can draw support from each other as we walk along the journey of faith, together as a 'drop-in center' type church.