The trend of many growing churches in recent years has been to make their buildings feel like a gymnasium. I am not all that keen on that concept. Some of us are gymnasium-averse. We get hurt in gymnasiums (emotionally maybe even more so than physically). Churches should be places of healing and transformation, not pain and despair. How can a church be more like the place where I stop to get a cheap cup of coffee (a coffee shop, not a coffee house,) or the place where I could go to get a microwave burrito, if I really ate such things? It’s not that I envision folks running in for a “six pack of grace” or a “microwave-ready pack of God’s Love – Super Size today, please, because I am feeling very needy” but just a place that anyone can approach, and feel comfortable in so doing. Fact is, God’s love, forgiveness, and grace are even way cooler and more convenient than “convenience store grace” because Jesus already paid the price and we can receive them at no cost, wherever and whenever we like. And there’s no sales tax. (Not that He wouldn’t want us to go ahead and pay it if there were one.)
Interesting story here … not for the faint of heart perhaps but nonetheless I am sharing it. (So skip a paragraph or two if that is you, please!) I saw a news story (warning: it may not be possible to trust all of my news sources) where a couple (man and woman) went into a restroom at a convenience store. They came out with something wrapped up in paper towels which they asked the store clerk to microwave for them. Apparently, though, they were not sure how long it should be microwaved. It started smelling really funky so the store clerk took it out of the microwave and proceeded to unwrap it, revealing what, much to her horror, appeared to be a severed penis. Upon further investigation, it was actually a fake penis used to pass drug tests. Apparently, the woman had urinated her “clean” urine into it and the man was about to take it and use it someplace for the purpose of passing a drug screen. The microwaving was to ensure that the urine would stay body-temperature warm. I am a bit curious why they chose to do this at a convenience store rather than at home but, the point is (I think), that they were incredibly comfortable at the convenience store. I am not condoning that it would be wise for us to have churches people want to go to for the purpose of staging fake drug screens (all in all, a bad thing) but there is a lot to be said for creating an atmosphere where the folks who are most sought-after by Jesus would want to be. Let’s face it, people go where they feel comfortable.
Now, not that criminals necessarily want to be in jail but I am a big fan of prison ministries because they reach the folks Jesus wanted to reach. The same goes for holding AA meetings and other 12-step programs and recovery groups at churches. God has an answer for the broken and that is who He strives to reach more than anyone … I think He’s pretty certain that it’s too late for the “comfortable” among us. Let’s make our churches not look intimidating. Let’s bring in the folks that Jesus was so passionate about, the folks that we are called to be passionate about and to show His love to.
I apologize if my story about the incident involving the couple in the convenience store shocked anyone. My point is this – there are lots of folks out there today who, even in their moments of greatest despair and brokenness, are absolutely not going to just pop into the local church and “get Jesus”. We must be constantly reaching out to them but we must also make our churches more comfortable and inviting to those who Jesus reached out to. To some degree, what I am talking about is almost akin to the Reformation. Today, I think that many Christians are too committed to church buildings and traditions. Having grown up in the late 1960s, I have seen some major shifting back and forth over the years in regards to this and, if anything, we seem to be heading in a better direction today but the focus must be, just as Jesus showed us, on small group relational ministry, reaching those who are at points of brokenness and just seeking love, acceptance, and a new life direction. The question is, where will we reach them?