Yelp reviewers gave the church four and a half stars. When we entered on Sunday morning we could see why: from the warm welcome we received from a volunteer named Bob (“Here’s your welcome packet–don’t forget there’s a coffee coupon inside. Now let me show you to the nursery.”), to the topnotch childcare facility (complete with playground, automated check-in services, and a separate stage with an big screen TV and a child-size drum kit so that each age group could have their own worship time), to the professional lighting and set design on the stage in the main auditorium, to the well-polished band that managed to stay perfectly in sync with each other and the Power Point (no typos on the slides here!), to the well-honed delivery of well-tanned pastor–every thing was perfect. Or at least perfect enough to merit four and half stars.
And yet, as good as it all was, I couldn’t help but wonder. Was it working? Was it working for those inside the congregation? Yes, the auditorium was full, but were these people being effectively discipled? Where all efforts of this church helping them become more like Jesus? (These are questions that haunt me about my own ministry, too!) And what about those “outside”? Almost everything about our Sunday morning experience–from the music to the childcare facility to the sermon series (Celebrate Families!) to the coffee bar in the lobby–suggested that this congregation saw reaching young families as a core part of its mission. So, were their efforts paying off?
To be sure, I can’t claim any deep knowledge of this congregation. My experience was limited to a single Sunday morning–a few hours if you count the extra time we spent on the playground. But when I looked around the packed auditorium, I was struck by the fact that the average age of those gathered appeared closer to seventy than to thirty. In fact, at least three fourths of those gathered for worship looked as though they might be taking the bus back to the local retirement home for lunch after the service. Perhaps things were different in the 8:00 or the 11:00 services–but in the service I attended the answer to my second question seemed quiet clear: No, it was not working.
It was a sobering realization. I serve a congregation that also seeks to serve and minister to young families. We have a few already–but we’d love to have a few more (especially those who do not have any meaningful connection with a church–or with the King of the Church)! When we think about how we might attract more of them, it is easy for us to think that if only we could deliver a better Sunday morning product–if we could hire a drummer and rehearse the band a little longer and find a more interesting preacher and spice up our kid’s programs–then things would take care of themselves. But here was a church that was doing all that–and doing it well (did I mention the well-deserved four and a half stars?)–and it wasn’t working. If it wasn’t working for them, is there any hope for the rest of us?!
Somewhere around the preacher’s third point, my mind wandered to a chapter I had read the previous day in Hugh Halter’s book The Tangible Kingdom. (What can I say, I’m not very good at listening to sermons. I guess I am out of practice.) In the book, Halter argues that highly polished programs and five-star religious products within the church are not the key to attracting people to the good news. Instead, it is our body-language–our posture–when we are outside the church that matters most. If we want people to be drawn to Jesus (and into the fellowship of those who love Jesus), they must see us stooped in service with him, washing the feet of a hurting world. They must see us leaning into the kingdom of justice and mercy and wholeness. They must see us bending over, shouldering our crosses and following him.
That doesn’t sound easy. But it does sound like something that just might work. And by the grace of God, it does sound like there just might be some hope for the rest of us.
*What do you think?
*Who has made the Kingdom-Life attractive to you?
*How can (or does) your church community reflect the beauty of Jesus’ death and resurrection in tangible ways?
*How is your posture?