At one point during a community festival of kindness event, I walked to the upper bleachers of the community center and looked down on all that was happening. Families were receiving free groceries, health screenings were happening, a whole array of agencies were on hand, along with hundreds of volunteers and hundreds of families receiving needed help. While this annual event-oriented approach has its limitations; it was awfully encouraging to see ten churches and five hundred volunteers working together serving the people of their community. When I sat down to chat with people who were waiting to receive groceries, I would make some small talk and then say something like, “We are just trying to show a little of Jesus’ love today. I hope it helps out.”
What if we lived out the Gospel every day, instead of saving it for an annual event?
How many times have you seen a grand old church building in a not-so-great area of town that was abandoned; its congregation either diminished or moved to the burbs? Just when the neighborhood most needs a kingdom presence, it has been left high and dry.
How often have you driven by a beautiful church building on weekday to see it surrounded by a totally vacant parking lot?
What’s wrong with this picture? Expensive real estate is being used exclusively for insider purposes and only a few hours a week, at that. People in the poorer areas of town have helplessly watched as all of their resources have moved away, including their churches, allowing for the further deterioration of the neighborhood on so many levels.
There is a basic problem with the church’s outreach approach of “come and hear.” It doesn’t work! It doesn’t mean anything! It doesn’t cost us anything! It says, “Come to our place. Dress like us. Listen to our guy. Be like us and then, maybe, eventually, when you make a profession of faith and go to some classes, we will accept you.” It reduces the life and message of Christ to a little show and something cerebral to sign off on.
What if we served people in tangible ways? What if the church once again became the center of the community? What if our building became the community center? What if we looked for tangible ways to live out the love of Christ and to be the Gospel? What if the church collaborated with other community organizations and housed their services and offices, benefitting the agency, the church, and the people who live in the area? What if the senior pastor became more of a coordinator? What if the local church building was a heavily used facility and almost constantly occupied? What would that do to the witness of the church in the community?
If that happened, there would be a beautiful renewal of old and underutilized church buildings, congregations, neighborhoods, and lives. What’s stopping us? We will have to give up some control, stop worrying about the building showing signs of use, work together with other organizations, and get real about the Gospel!
– From my forthcoming book, An Irreligious Faith