What Kind of a Church Are We?

Churches across America are trying to reinvent themselves. They are trying new things in an effort to attract a culture that has no desire for church – or God for that matter. New songs, new styles, new ideas. We’re trying some of the same things at my church. There’s nothing sacred about the new, but neither is there anything sacred about the old (I’m referring to the container not the content – new packaging not new message). There may, however, be something about new methods and ideas that our culture relates to in a way that they don’t relate to old methods and ideas.

Occasionally I use this space to share an interesting article I’ve read that I hope will stimulate your thinking – and ministry. Following is an article written by Dr. Robert Moss, pastor at Lutheran Church of the Master in Lakewood, CO. He addresses this issue in a way that is healthy and thought provoking. The title alone should arouse your curiosity.

Read it for the big idea – don’t pick at the little details (IE reporting to your bishop if you don’t come from a church tradition that has bishops). I’ll add a few comments at the end.

Why We Will Never Be a Welcoming Church Again
We’ve decided to quit being a welcoming church.

No kidding. We’re giving it up.

It won’t be easy, but we’re committed to it. We’ll have to do it in stages, easing our folks into it step by step. We’ll have to deal with the fear of something new, the challenge of venturing into the unknown. But we’ll do it. It will take motivation, leadership and constant reminders.

But most importantly, it will take total commitment in embracing a new focus.

Like so many churches, we’ve sunk an amazing amount of time and energy into becoming a welcoming church.

We changed worship styles, we trained greeters and ushers, we wore name tags, we percolated coffee, we went to workshops on hospitality, we put our friendliest people in the most prominent places on Sunday mornings. But we’ve realized we’ve been misplacing our emphasis. So we’re no longer going to do it.

Here’s what we’re doing instead.

We are becoming an Inviting Church.

That’s different. You see, “welcoming” from a missional perspective is passive. It denotes waiting for visitors and guests to drop by. When they do, we attempt to treat them very well and do everything possible to make them comfortable.

We’ll be willing to change who we are. We’ll follow particular formats that have proven to be more welcoming to new people. We’ll do whatever it takes to have them come back the next Sunday, even if they shouldn’t.

Welcoming is about us, not about them.

“Inviting,” however, is different. That means we leave the comfort of our congregational home-court advantage. The main activity doesn’t happen in our worship space when people drop in, but in the neighborhood when we go out. It isn’t so much welcoming them into our place, but going out into their place and meeting them there.

Even that warrants a significant caveat. This is not just another gimmick to get people into the church.

The foundation of this isn’t an attempt to bolster declining membership rolls and make a better parochial report to the bishop.

No, it goes much deeper than that. It starts with who God has called us to be as church. It involves discovering our gifts and purpose. And it mandates joining God at work in the world.

This isn’t about getting the world into God’s church; it’s about getting the church into God’s world.

If you’ve read any postings on this blog before, you know that God’s mission is what we are to be about.

Everything comes from that — including the identity of the church. We exist as church only because God has a mission. Our purpose, our very identity, is called forth out of God’s loving care and redemptive activity in creation.

We are steeped in God’s mission. We are drenched through baptism into this essential character of God. God is at work in the world, and creates, calls and equips the church specifically for that work.

Each congregation has a purpose within God’s mission.

Each congregation has particular gifts. Each congregation reveals the life-giving reign of God in unique ways.

No congregation is everything to everyone. But every congregation is something to someone.

Who can know God through your worship style?

Who can experience forgiveness and grace through your congregational community?

Who needs the gifts you have to offer?

Who can offer gifts you need?

Knowing those things, when in conversation over the backyard fence about their pain in losing a loved one, it would be natural then to invite that neighbor to your congregation’s grief support group that has made such a difference for many others.

When in the employee lunch room chatting about the pressures of our jobs, it would fit to invite that co-worker to your congregation’s spiritual direction group for professionals.

When sharing the struggles of parenthood with a friend while waiting for your kids to come out of school, it would make sense to invite their whole family to your cross-generational faith development, where you have gained so much guidance from other parents.

While paying for a car repair, your long-time mechanic lets slip that she has lost her faith, it would easily flow for you to invite her to join you (and all the other doubters who will gather this Sunday) in worship.

Welcoming involves hoping whoever happens to find you will join.

Inviting involves sharing God’s specific gifts — made real in your congregation — in the world.

Back to me. The point he makes is that we can’t sit back and wait for the world to come to us – we have to go to the world and bring them to Christ and His church.

So what do you think – should we be a Welcoming church or an Inviting church? What would happen if we were BOTH? What would happen if we began by going out into our world and inviting people to come with us to see Jesus in and through us as a church? And then we genuinely welcomed them and they felt it through our love, our care, our music, our style, our worship?

Here’s my suggestion – let’s be intentional about bringing people to church. We have what they need – not in the sense of specific programs but in the sense that the gospel is the answer to whatever they are facing in life.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve


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