The longer I’m a student of the church and what it takes for a local church to reach the lost inside her community, the more I realize how little I know. There is, however, one reality of which I am sure: We insiders vastly underestimate the changes we must be willing to embrace (note I said “changes” with regard to the church and not the Gospel) in order to engage the outsiders around us. Most churches have grown far more irrelevant to their communities than they realize, and the idea that we can tweak a few things, totally avoid any changes in existing programming, even totally avoid the possibility of offending any insiders, and effectively reach outsiders is the quicksand great ideas die in.
Consider this selection from James Emery White’s book: “The Rise of the Nones.” (Pages.97-98)
“I grew up with Wheaties, the cereal known as ‘Breakfast of Champions.’ You knew an athlete had arrived on the cultural scene if his or her picture landed on the front of one of its boxes. But Wheaties has fallen onto hard times of late. There are many reasons for this, but industry insiders say that the heart of the matter is simple: Wheaties is in no man’s land.
That’s my terminology, but there’s what the pundits are saying: Wheaties isn’t healthy enough for the Fiber One crowd, and it isn’t unhealthy enough for the Frosted Flakes crowd. That’s no man’s land. By not positioning itself firmly in any camp- not quite healthy food, not quite the junk food- it reaches no one.
It’s not just cereal that can fall into this category. The heart of no man’s land for a church is not being targeted enough to reach the unchurched but being too targeted to the unchurched for the churched. Such churches are too tilted to those exploring the Christian faith to have their weekend services attract large numbers of traditionally minded, church –is-for-me believers, yet too caught in the cultural trappings of traditional church to attract explorers- or at least have their members feel comfortable inviting their unchurched friends.
Why is it so common for churches to find themselves in no man’s land? It’s because many churches get the surface issues of connecting with those outside the church but little more. They get the music, the dress, the style. Yet they don’t go far enough in leading the church to have a missional heart to reach out to those outside the church and invite them in; and they don’t have culturally informed and culturally sensitive messages and environments that address the questions and concerns of our day. In other words, they have style, but not substance, décor but not decorum. They’re trying to stand on Mars Hill with an Acts 17 vibe, but they’re doing it with a Jerusalem/Acts 2 DNA. So they end up reaching neither group.
They know about Mars Hill, talk about Mars Hill, even yearn for Mars Hill; but they don’t really know, in an intuitive sense, how to stand on Mars Hill. They are cultural critics, even cultural students, but not cultural apologists. A real Mars Hill person could spend ten minutes in their church service and see a mindset oriented toward those already convinced of Jerusalem playing out all over the place.
You pick where your church should stand- Mars Hill or Jerusalem. Of course I would argue for Mars Hill. But whatever you do, there’s one place you don’t want to find yourself: no man’s land.”
Do your homework, leaders. Make decisions. Communicate “why?” Decide where you want your church to stand. Pray, lead, and then cowboy up. It’s time for change.