Established churches are great at saying that we want to reach unchurched people and then doing absolutely nothing toward that goal. Honestly I don’t think churches know what we are saying when we state we want to reach unchurched people. We are obviously well trained to satisfy church people. This is our sweet spot. This is in our wheel house. What does it even look like to create a church that is entirely for people who are not even there? First of all, the people that are there probably won’t like it.
I am currently reading an incredible book by Andy Stanley, titled Deep and Wide. The subtitle for the book is Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. I have read several of Andy’s books and they have all had an impact on my faith and my approach to ministry. This book, however, is my favorite. This may sound arrogant, but Andy puts pen to paper for many of the thoughts that have swimming around in my head for the past several years. Here are just a couple:
“The moment a church, or even a group of leaders within a church, catches a vision for capturing the hearts and imaginations of those who consider themselves unchurched or dechurched, environments take on new significance.” If you were to ask leaders in my previous appointments, they will tell you that I have preached over and over about the need to create environments into which people actually want to enter as they walk into our churches. Not programs, not spaces, not events, not services, but environments. In fact, just this past Sunday, prior to reading Deep and Wide, I spoke to the congregation here at Matthews UMC about the church providing Experiences through Environments that Encourage relationships. Through 801South, rather than begging people to come be a part of what we are doing for ourselves, we hope to create environments into which unchurched people will actually want to enter.
In explaining providential relationships as one of the five key faith catalysts; which North Point Community Church has always used to develop their ministries, Andy writes, “While it’s beyond our ability to manufacture any type of relationship, much less one characterized as providential, what we can do is create environments that are conducive to the development of these types of relationships.” (I promise that I did not read this statement before delivering the message this past weekend.) The problem with creating environments in which unchurched people would want to participate is that you have to think like someone who is unchurched. Apparently, when the Holy Spirit takes residence withus us, his (or her or whatever) first action is to disconnect the unchurched brain through which we previously interpreted the world. This hurts us as we try to reach those whom at one time we were just like.
It will be important for those who sign on to be a part of the launch team for 801South to understand that many of the decisions we make will not make sense to church people. In fact, many of the ways we try to reach, teach, praise, and serve could potentially be interpreted as offensive to good church people. But 801South is not for churched people.
Andy Stanley, through the written word, is inspiring and solidifying my vision for the rare opportunity we have through 801South. Despite the constant tension and natural drift to become an institution for those already in the church, my hope is to provide more than lip-service toward the mission.