Sunday, March 11, 2007

Q&A: What Difference Will More Churches Make?

Now that we've taken a closer look at each of the five reasons for church planting, over the next few weeks, I'd like to respond to some of the questions that people have asked about this whole endeavor. But first, I want to thank those of you who have read through the Vision Packets, prayed about the vision of our church, and have asked questions. I appreciate your thoughtful engagement, and it helps me know what I need to explain more thoroughly and completely.

The first question I'll be tackling is the most common one people have been asking: What difference will more churches make? After all, if there are 100,000 people already not attending church, why would the establishment of a new congregation make them suddenly start coming?

That's a very reasonable question, but one with answers, too. Some of these answers I've already covered in a previous post: Why Church Planting? A Pragmatic Reason. In that post, I talked about what makes church plants different from established churches, and why they're more effective.

But this week, I want to take the question from the opposite angle--from the perspective of the unchurched person--because as people have posed this question to me, that's usually the question they're really asking: If someone doesn't go to church currently, what difference is it going to make that there's yet one more church to not go to?

This question from this perspective has some unspoken assumptions behind it that I'd like to bring to light:

  • The assumption that "The Unchurched" as a category is a monolithic group that is all pretty much the same;
  • The assumption that the unchurched are unchurched because they have made the conscious choice to be unchurched;
  • The assumption that the unchurched have already received a credible presentation of the gospel message, have thoroughly evaluated the evidence, and have made an informed decision to pursue meaning and purpose elsewhere.
In other words, many times when people are asking this question, they assume that unchurched people are not interested in accepting Christ, and there's nothing that can ever be done about it.

But that is certainly not the truth! There are many different types of unchurched people:
  • those who have simply never thought much about spirituality and God
  • those who have been hurt by the church or by Christians
  • those who are actively searching for God but unsure how to find him
  • intellectual skeptics who choose to put their faith in science or politics
  • those who have accepted negative stereotypes of Christians because they've never really gotten close enough to know any that would challenge those stereotypes
  • those who feel guilty and don't believe that God loves them or could ever accept them
  • and there are many others too!

Some of them grew up without the church and it has never occurred to them to seek God there; they believe church is for "other people." Some did grow up with church, but their spirituality was never connected in a meaningful way with the rest of their life, so it became an unnecessary appendage that they have since dispensed with. Some of them have heard the gospel message, but it may have come at a time that they weren't ready for it, or in a way that they didn't understand it, or have an opportunity to respond to it.

So often, we blame the unchurched for not accepting Christ
when we should blame the church for not reaching them.

The truth is that our culture is hungry for real spirituality. They are constantly searching for it through a multitude of means--yoga, Oprah, therapy, tai chi, Chai Tea, movies, AA, and self-help books. But all of those things are ultimately empty and dead ends without God. They are going to keep searching until they find what they are looking for because that's the way that God created us. The real question is: Will the church be ready to give a reason for the hope that it has? (1 Peter 3:15)

There are not nearly enough churches going out into the deep waters and searching for the lost and shipwrecked. There are too many people to save, too many clubs, and not enough life-saving stations. Or as Jesus said 2000 years ago, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out more workers into his harvest field" (Matt. 9:37-38 NIV).

By planting more of the right kind of churches--churches that are actually committed to fulfilling the mission of Jesus--we are not only praying for more workers, we are actually deploying them.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

I agree 100% with this post. We have to reach the unchurched, and not have the attitude of: "Here we are. They can either come to us or not." Both Jesus and Paul talked to the people using the people's language and culture, but with the same message, the GOSPEL. We need to do the same thing, using whatever methods will accomplish that--culturally relevant music, skits, sermon illustrations, and new churches--to grab attention, satisfy curiosities, encourage seeking, shatter stereotypes, and heal wounds. That's what Christ did. That's what his followers did. That's what we must do. Christ modeled how TO do it and also pointed out how NOT to do it (Pharisees). The CHURCH is not an exclusive club. It's all-inclusive. We just need to make sure that people know that it's more than "you can come if you want to". It's WE WANT YOU. GOD WANTS YOU.