Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Church Con Job

I recently spoke with a friend about how church is going. This person attends a large church which has regathered outdoors for worship. She expressed disappointment that a lot of young families have not returned to worship.

These families have tasted guilt-free freedom on Sunday mornings. They now have whole weekends without the pressures and responsibilities of church activities. Apparently some families enjoy this kind of extended discretionary time. It will be hard, my friend said, to pull them back into church life.

My friend was well-intentioned, and I don't mean to distort her heart's concern. But it's time for churches and church leaders to do some soul-searching. Have we really conned people into giving up their free time so that we can count them in our numbers for worship and Bible study?

Now that virtually every Christian in America has tasted the weekend freedom of the nonreligious, have they really found something better than church? Maybe mere habit and social convention led many believers to gather religiously. Maybe most of us have never really known anything different than regular Sunday meeting rituals. Maybe something besides love for Jesus animated our Sunday routines.

And now the habit is broken. 

Or maybe the spell in broken.

If churches need to do a sales job to cajole the masses back into the pews, then count me out. 

This is a "come to Jesus" time about the real purpose of church. Is the purpose to gather a crowd? Or is the purpose to make disciples? Of course the word for "church" in the original language means "assembly" or "ones called out." But surely Jesus had more in mind than large groups singing songs and hearing speeches. 

The church is not just called out, but called together. The early church met daily, sold stuff to help the needy, and dedicated themselves to prayer. They cared about the poor and hurting. Their faith was a way of life. The world saw this love and dedication and longed to be a part of the fellowship.

The church stood up to bullies in government and religion. They announced the coming of the kingdom of God. They shared good news. God constantly shakes up the status quo with the power of Jesus.

Let's be a Church that cares about justice, intervenes for the poor, rejects rampant consumerism, challenges the people in power, and loves the unlovely. Let's help people find love and acceptance. Let's share the message of hope in Christ. Let's work together to end racism. Let's lift up each other when we feel discouraged. Let's help people find meaning and joy in daily life. Let's sacrifice our comfort to supply the needs of others. Let's introduce people to Jesus.

Then we will have something to sing about on Sundays: the God who transforms.