Who is church designed for?
For many years we have quite rightly understood the theology of the church meaning that church is both ‘a means to an end’ as well as ‘an end in itself’.
It is an end in itself in that the church now is an expression of the church that will meet around the throne of God for an eternity. And the church is a means to an end because God has chosen his people to make Jesus known so that others may also participate in God’s kingdom.
This theology of church sits within the broader framework where God is currently gathering his children, before sending the Lord Jesus to return.
Why is it, then, that so many churches functionally (not necessarily theoretically) neglect their privileged part in God’s mission?
In part this is because we don’t know how to operate in a post-Christian world. Up until recent decades we were living in a Christian world – institutions ‘Christianised’ people, language was ‘Christian’, non-Christian behaviours were not accepted, etc. But with the shift to post-modernism, this context has now all but evaporated, and we are in a post-Christian world. Part of the reason that we have lost our part in God’s mission is that we don’t know how to operate in this kind of environment. Sometimes we even feel under ‘siege’.
There is a second reason. Some may need ‘to put the dead cat on the table.’ You may have ideas about what to do, but the reality is that your church is not willing to make the necessary changes. In an increasingly hostile world, it is tempting to ‘hang on’ by retreating to our own comfort. It can even be justified sometimes as not being of the world (I am talking about times when this is an excuse for not changing, not times it is legitimate).
It may be easier, but is it not being disobedient to the reason that God has left us in the world?
I recently received the challenge to ponder what aspects of our church life are geared for Christians, compared to aspects geared for those not yet Christians. Some examples are:
• To what extent is prayer about the outsider, or is it just token?
• Do church announcements (content and volume) include or alienate?
• Can a visitor gain something out of every sermon?
• Are small groups genuinely accessible by new people?
• Would a typical visitor feel welcomed in the church community?
• Is training geared toward the end of evangelism?
At the very time we have needed to re-engage, we have retreated. With statistics indicating that 1 in 2 people would atleast consider an invitation from a friend to come to church, we have every reason for optimism. But, with prayer and repentance, we must examine our hearts and preferences as we bring about uncomfortable change to reach a post-Christian world for Jesus.