Monday, February 18, 2008

"A Different Kind of Church"

On our postcards that we print up from time to time, it says, "Pathway Community Church is a different kind of church. We offer a relaxed, friendly, authentic atmosphere where people can come and check out the message of Jesus for themselves. Come join us at Pathway Community Church!"

Pastor Brent pointed out to me that it seems every church wants to promote itself as "a different kind of church." After all, you never hear a church that says, "Hey! We're a church just like all the other ones. Come to the church that's no different."

And yet, I believe we are a different kind of church. What is it that makes us different? I think several things:

First, a relaxed atmosphere. This is a church where people really can come "as they are." I was talking with a new couple in our church recently, and the wife told me that as a kid she had always heard that it didn't matter what you wear to church. But that message was always undermined by the fact that you (of course!) couldn't wear jeans or shorts or play clothes. In other words, it didn't matter what you wore, as long as you dressed up in clothes you would never ordinarily wear otherwise. Clothing certainly isn't everything, but it is something. This is a church that really does let people be who they are--in how they dress, how they talk, what their needs are, and what's going on in their lives. We don't get embarrassed or ashamed of people and their problems or their needs.

Second, a friendly atmosphere. This is a church that goes out of its way to welcome people--all people, not just the regulars or the ones who are already "in." All churches are friendly to the people who are already part of the church, but many--while friendly to one another--are cold and aloof to outsiders. Literally every single person who has gone through the Journey Class 101 that I have taught (well over 30 people) has commented about the genuine friendliness of the people here being one of the main things that attracted them and caused them to keep coming back. We value people, we remember their names, we go out of our way to recognize them and show them that they matter to us. We have a greeting time in the service every week--that's by design--because it impresses people when they are noticed and warmly welcomed. Some people are stunned to learn that a church might actually be glad they're there.

Third, an authentic atmosphere. We talk about real problems--the kind that real people have in their real lives--and what God has to say about them in his word. We talk about Real Faith and what that looks like lived out in Real Spirituality, Real Community, and Real Story.

The more I talk with people outside our church, the more I realize just how rare these qualities are. Almost everyone has had some experience with churches and/or church people, and the overwhelming majority of those experiences are extremely negative. Most churches in America today are unhelpful, unwelcoming, uptight, and inauthentic; they do not share "good news" in a way that it can be recognized as something good. It's not that people have refused to give the church a chance--it's that they tried it and found it to be a total waste of time.

We definitely do some things that are unusual here--our themed series, the fact that I preach in jeans, incorporating secular music and movies, and zany skits--but that's not what makes us a different church. All that stuff is just externals. The real difference is in our philosophy, our strategy, and the way we engage people as legitimate conversation partners who are worthy of being convinced of the truth instead of being lectured and threatened with the truth.

Pathway Community Church is a different kind of church. I hope you're taking the opportunity to share that with the people that God has placed in your life. That's not just a slogan--it's really true. We work hard to create an atmosphere where people can come and really experience God speaking to their hearts and lives--where people can come and check out the message of Jesus for themselves.

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