I just received a question from an associate that asked how to start a service to attract people from outside the church. I encouraged her to give up on this idea.
But what is wrong with starting a relevant church for seekers?
Relevant churches are rarely even closely relevant. Most Christians don't even like them. They might be better than Mom and Dad's morning service, but they usually are quite irrelevant to the outsider. The church person cannot 'guess' what the seeker wants, undoubtedly getting it wrong. What Christians need to do is create meaningful worship through bringing their very own lives to God. Worship must reflect the culture of the community that is currently part of the church, not replicate current worship CDs, nor 1980s soft rock, nor 18th century hymns. Instead of mimicking other church cultures, the community collectively brings their own idiosyncratic ways of life to God, whatever they may be. Indeed, the church may have the stray outsider finding themselves in the worship service and joining the community. But if the focus is on them, simply to be relevant, their worship will satisfy neither the church members nor the outsider.
A focus on the church service as connecting point perpetuates the idea that following Jesus is about going to church. The community's life takes the form of American congregational religion rather than the fluid practices of the gospel, and this emphasis presents quite a barrier to the 'seeker' outside, as they need to be converted to the values of American religious congregationalism before they can come to faith. Thus, virtually all of those who are attracted to the relevant service were raised in church or are currently going to another church -- they are not the never-churched. In contrast, a missional congregation connects with those outside the faith by, well, connecting with those outside of the community in their world. Connecting happens not in a 'come to us' CHURCH service, but through 'go and dwell' church SERVICE, i.e. service in the community -- living alternative lives.
A focus on the service as connecting point perpetuates the sacred/secular split of modernity. When the bulk of the community's energy goes to maintaining a church service, it implies that the church service is more holy, more important, more worthy of our time than the everyday practice of our spirituality.
A focus on the service as connecting point perpetuates the clergy/laity split -- there are those who 'do' ministry for everyone else. Instead, the role of the leaders is to facilitate the worship expression of the community as a whole.
A focus on the service as connecting point perpetuates the producer/consumer form of spirituality -- those on paid or volunteer staff produce spiritual products for passive spectators to consume. Instead, the church must create a context for the community production of worship -- we consume as we produce...
What are the alternatives to connecting through the church service?
To clarify, those who desire to connect with the outsider are in synch with the God of the Universe. Truly, mission lies at the very heart of God. However, those of us raised in the evangelical tradition have been socialized into thinking that this connection needs to happen through a church service.
Instead we need to take another look at worship and mission and entertain allow for other possibilities, such as:
The worship service is no longer an evangelistic service for outsiders but a space to practice heaven for a period of time, facilitating the offering of the community life to God in worship. If a guest of the community finds God in the service, all the better, but this is not the focus.
Mission happens in the 'world' in the world formerly known as secular, on their 'turf' -- not ours. As servants, the Christian connects with the seeker through service in their world.